A few years ago I was talking with a co-worker about general health and the topic of stress came up. He taught me a bit about breathing with your diaphragm and how it generates some feel good hormones. A few years later I was talking with a psychologist and I learned even more about this style of breathing. As I researched more about this topic, and started putting it into practice, I found my self even breathing this way in every day life, resulting in an overall increase in quality of life; and my state of being was much more peaceful.
Diaphragmatic Breathing (also called abdominal breathing, calm breathing or deep breathing), helps us become consciously aware of our breath. As we become consciously aware of our breath, we change our thinking from the primitive thinking portion of our brain (the back) to the intelligent part of our brain (the prefrontal cortex). This change of thinking, first and foremost, breaks our "fight, flight or accept death" response, helping us make more rational decisions. If you are angry, anxious or generally stressed we need to put the focus to more rational decisions. Not to mention, stress gives us a pretty negative state of being and makes us feel shitty. If you’re on this site to get better, we want to remove all feelings of stress and improve our lives.
Diaphragmatic breathing also directly reduces stress by triggering our brains to release endorphins. As our diaphragm expands it touches the Phrenic nerve (which runs from our neck to our diaphragms), which then stimulates our brain to release endorphins, creating stress reducing responses, pain relief and much more. Not only does our diaphragm expand to touch the nerve to create a good feeling, it balances our blood oxygen levels.
Our blood oxygen levels and blood carbon dioxide levels are important to how we generally feel. When we become stressed or anxious, we develop shallow breathing and, because of this, we are unable to expel all of our carbon dioxide. Just as well, we are unable to nourish our bodies with life giving oxygen. As we breathe with our diaphragm, we are able to expel all carbon dioxide and give precious oxygen to all the cells within our bodies.
So… with all these great benefits, how do we practice diaphragmatic breathing?
- 1. Place one hand on your abdomen right below your ribcage.
- 2. Place your other hand on the center of your chest
- 3. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose to the bottom of your lungs, expanding your abdomen. Your chest should move slightly, while your stomach will rise pushing your lower hand up.
- 4. When you have taken a full breath in, hold the breath for a count of three.
- 5. Exhale your breath fully through your mouth for a count of five. As you exhale you may purse your lips like blowing on a hot bowl of soup. As you exhale you will also want to feel all tension and stress leave your body.
- 6. Move your limbs around, stretch in any weird direction you may choose. This helps identify tension spots; also it gets our blood flowing to deliver oxygen to all our cells.
- 7. Repeat steps one (1) through six (6) five times.
The great thing about this practice is that we can do this anywhere we are; it takes only a few moments and is an immediate stress reducer. I like to practice this right when I get up. It helps me start my days on a high note; as well before, or during, my coffee breaks at work; when I feel a stressful situation arrive; and before I go to sleep, to ultimately help relax my body.
Diaphragmatic breathing has many more benefits; however these are the ones I wanted to highlight the most, as I believe it has the greatest benefits for improving our state of being. I know that life isn’t always good, but with great coping strategies like this, we can make it alright.