What Deep Breathing Can Do For You
How your breath can make you a healthier person
We can all agree that breathing is in no way overrated. When you inhale, you deliver oxygen to your body, and when you exhale, you release carbon dioxide. It is an automatic response by the respiratory system. It is essential for living, so we don’t have to think about it.
Or do we?
Shallow and rapid breathing is a part of the stress response. We change our breathing when we are hit with anxiety, even if the anxiety is minor like when we have a few too many emails. If you stay in this breathing pattern way past the event that triggered it, you may prolong your stress.
Scientific studies have shown that controlling our breath can help to manage chronic stress. It is as simple as making friends with your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is the parachute shaped muscle that aids in your breathing. It separates the thoracic cavity of the rib cage from the abdominal cavity. It contracts downward to give the lungs an opportunity to take in more oxygen. When you exhale, it relaxes.
Interestingly, when we are stressed, we breathe much less from the diaphragm. We become shoulder breathers. We breathe more from the top of the lungs. This can lead to many conditions that appear unrelated, such as insomnia, headaches or muscle ache.
To do this breathing technique, take at least five minutes. Close your eyes. Begin to notice your natural breathing. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Try to feel the breath with your hands. Emphasize the movement in your belly more so than in the chest. This ensures that you are diaphragm breathing. Count in slowly to five and allow your belly to expand. Count slowly to five again as you allow your belly to contract.
If you can increase the breath count, do so, working your way up to a count of ten. You can even use words to chant silently to yourself as you inhale and exhale. Inhale relaxation; exhale stress. Inhale what you want; exhale what you don’t want.
The more you practice this technique, the more chance it will have to become as automatic as, well, breathing. You can help to reset your body’s internal rhythm, making the habit of holding on to stress one that can easily be broken.