Put your hand on your chest. Feel it rise and fall as you inhale and exhale? That’s not
good. Most of us don’t breathe well. Most of us, most of the time, breathe shallow from our chest. Our lungs are located lower, and under our lungs is a muscle called the diaphragm.
I teach my clients something called Diaphragmatic Breathing. When we do this, the diaphragm contracts, the chest does not rise, but your belly rises and you can feel your lungs expand. This type of breathing is a natural, relaxed form of breathing in all mammals. This is how we should be breathing when we are relaxed and there is no present danger or threat. When we perceive danger or threat, we breathe shallow and fast…like an anxiety attack for instance. But, most of us have become so accustomed to breathing shallow, because we live very stressful lives, that the only time we are breathing diaphragmatically, is when we are sleeping.
Belly breathing maximizes the amount of oxygen that goes into our blood. This in turn circulates more oxygen to our muscles, organs and brain. The benefits can include improved lung function, improved heart function, relaxation, slowing of your heart rate, anxiety and stress management and reduction, lowering blood pressure, centering yourself, emotional regulation, self-soothing and calming the chaos in your brain, just to name a few. By practicing regularly, you can calm yourself with only one or two breaths. I’ve been practicing belly breathing for about 7 years now and can usually take one or two breaths and my body responds.
I teach this to nearly every patient I have. So, I thought it might be helpful for you. I’m going to teach you the basic tenets and you can practice it and let me know in the comments what you think of it. You want to breathe deep from your diaphragm (or belly). Put one hand on your chest and one on your belly. You will feel your belly rise and your lungs expand. Then exhale it all out through your mouth. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth and make these the same amount of time. So if you count as you inhale, “1…2…3…4…5” you would count as you exhale “1…2…3…4…5”. Make sense? Great!
When I was first learning this skill, my mind would wander. And no matter how much I focused on the breathing or on the counting, my mind wandered. What did I need to get at Target later? Whose birthday is next? Why did Game of Thrones end? How did Game of Thrones end? How much of a telephone pole is in the ground? You see? It was a problem. But, I found out that if I had a visual image I could focus on that. My visual was the numbers as I counted. My numbers look like black house numbers you buy at the hardware store. Your numbers could look like clouds or be colors or whatever works for you.
If you try to ignore a distracting thought, it just knocks louder on the door. It’s best to acknowledge the thought and then go back to focusing on the breathing, or the counting or the numbers. Something like this, “Oops, I can think about my Target list later, now I’m going to focus on my breathing.” then let the distracting thought pass through your mind and refocus. It’s more difficult at first, but it gets easier the more you practice.
Some patients imagine inhaling a warm light, or peace, calm, love, (positive things) and then exhaling chaos, darkness, sadness, anxiety. Try this. Use it if it works for you and don’t if it doesn’t. Practice at least 3 times a day for 5 minutes each time. Set a timer so you aren’t distracted by the clock. Sit in a quiet place, close your eyes and give it a try. When you need to use it, you will be surprised how fast your body responds after practicing for awhile. Let me know in the comments how it goes for you! Happy breathing!
Be kind, be grateful, be courageous!