A couple weeks ago, I couldn’t find one of my kids after he’d been playing outside. I searched the neighborhood along with several of my neighbors. After 40 minutes, I entered full panic mode and called the police. Long story short, my son showed up about 30 minutes after the police arrived and he was just fine. It took me another 30 minutes or so to calm down. It took another day and a half for my body to recover. Almost immediately after that stress filled hour, I suffered from muscle aches and a dull headache. I quickly realized that instead of practicing diaphragmatic breathing like I’ve been doing for many years, I spent that panicked hour chest breathing which agitated my body, specifically my shoulders and neck where I have herniated discs.
Many of us suffer from or know someone who suffers from chronic pain, anxiety, headaches or back, shoulder and neck pain. What if I told you that the way you breath is possibly aggravating those ailments and making them worse? It could even be causing them all together.
There are two ways to breath.
Chest breathing is essentially taking short, shallow breaths, drawing air in through the chest instead of the diaphragm. It may not feel short and shallow to chest breathers because they are used to breathing this way and in many cases,people have been breathing this way for many years. Although very common, chest breathing causes tension in our body and like I stated above, it can cause pain or exacerbate pain we are already experiencing.
The healthiest way to breath is by using our diaphragm. To do that, you draw air through your nose down to your belly which expands, allowing your diaphragm to contract and move down opening up your lungs to let oxygen in. Breathing this way almost immediately relaxes your body. It’s also a wonderfully simple way to manage pain, anxiety and more, which you will see on the list below. Think of a baby sleeping on its back. Their belly’s move up and down as they breath because they naturally use their diaphragm. It’s not until we’re older that bad habits along with the stressors of life cause us to tense up and chest breath.
Making one simple change in how we fill our lungs with oxygen, can make a huge difference. Try it and pay attention to how you feel during and after.
Here are just some of the many benefits of diaphragmatic breathing.
- Helps manage depression, anxiety and sleeplessness.
- It helps you relax, lowering the harmful effects of the stress hormone cortisol on your body.
- It lowers your heart rate.
- It helps lower your blood pressure.
- It helps you cope with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
- It improves your core muscle stability.
- It improves your body’s ability to tolerate intense exercise.
- It lowers your chances of injuring or wearing out your muscles.
- It slows your rate of breathing so that it expends less energy
Diaphragmatic breathing instructions
Sit comfortably or lie down on your back. Put one hand on top of your chest and one hand on your belly. Take nice deep breaths in through your nose and out through your nose. Your belly should rise with each inhale and your hand is there to ensure that it does. The hand on your chest should not move at all.
*Practice this 2-3 times a day. In the morning and at night when you’re in bed and you can also try it when you are driving. The more you practice, the easier it will become.
For visual learners, check out my YouTube video on Diaphragmatic breathing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cavxYPEYnw