Inhale…Exhale…Inhale…Exhale…Breathe in…Breathe out…Breathe in…Breathe out…
Doesn’t seem so hard, right? I mean, breathing has been something we have been doing,
umm…well, our entire lives. But that doesn’t mean we are really doing it correctly or that we
couldn’t do it better. In fact, when we are little and have few cares in the world, we tend to have
nice relaxed breathing, deep into our lungs and belly. And then something happens along the
way, we get hurried, stressed, caught up in life and BAM, we are breathing small shallow breaths, only into the upper chest and it seems like a gargantuan task when someone asks us to “breathe into our belly.” In my physical therapy practice, I might spend literally 20 minutes working with someone on deepening the breath, becoming less reliant on neck and upper chest muscles, and letting some of their abdominal muscles relax. Try it yourself. Stop right here and place a hand over your tummy and your other hand on your chest. When you take a breath in, what hand moves the most? In a lot of cases, the chest hand rises, but the tummy hand moves very little. OK. Let’s see if we can improve upon it. How do we make our inhale better? Focus on the exhale. Weird, right? But let’s try it. Sit up tall, but relaxed. Now consciously exhale all the air out of your lungs, and then a little more. A good exhale might take 4-5 seconds. Feel the belly muscles tighten and pull inward a little to help you expel all that stagnant air. Good, now you are ready for a good deep inhale, bringing in fresh oxygen to the base of your lungs. A good inhale may take 3-4 seconds. Allow your lower rib cage to rise and expand. This is conscious breathing. Still not sure? Need a little more support. Try this. Sit supported with your arms crossed over your waist so that your hand is grabbing the opposite outer rib cage. Apply slight inward pressure on the ribs, kind of like a brace. Then, as before, on your next exhale completely expel all the air out of your lungs. Feel the inward draw and tension of your tummy muscles and gently pull inward on the lower ribs with your hands. Once you are ready for the inhale, focus on opening the lower rib cage, like the ribs are pushing up and outward into your hands and your belly into your arms. Feel that expansion? It should feel great!!
Now, why the big deal about breathing? Your breath is one of the most powerful forces to assist with maintaining or restoring normal functions in the body. Here are just a few of the benefits you may see as you get this whole breathing thing figured out:
1. Support for your immune system
a. By helping to regulate stress hormones that can compromise your nervous system with prolonged exposure to stress, ensuring expulsion of nasty toxins through effective exhale, and promoting optimal function of your organs by bringing vital nutrient and oxygen rich blood throughout the body.
2. Relief from pain
3. Relief from stress
4. Improved digestion
5. Mental focus and clarity
6. Improved mood
Deep breathing taps into the parasympathetic nervous system by stimulating (cranial nerve X) the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain all the way into the abdomen. There, the vagus nerve can influence our gut and digestion, slow our heart rate, and make us generally feel more calm and focused. This is in direct contrast to the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) that is responsible for regulating our stress response by quickening our heart rate, slowing digestion and shunting blood to our extremities so that we can run or fight. Most of the time in today’s hurried life, a little extra practice with stimulating our parasympathetic “calming” system is a good thing.
Here is just one extra little tip for you. One of my absolute favorite ways to enhance the benefits of conscious, deep breathing especially for stress relief, grounding and mental clarity…diffuse Young Living Essential Oils. My go-to oils are Young Living’s Frankincense, a blend called Stress-Away, or citrus oils such as Orange or Citrus Fresh. While not necessary to a deep breathing exercise or meditation practice, the addition of essential oils can rev up the benefits even more.