How many times per day do you think about your breathing? Most people will take over 23,000 breaths in a day, much more for those who are physically active. For many people, most if not all of those breaths are shallow and fill up only the top third of the lungs’ capacity. Focusing on achieving full diaphragmatic breaths throughout the day will relieve pain and anxiety and improve overall health.
What’s so important?
If you’re living, you’re breathing, so what’s the problem, right? I mentioned earlier that most people are only filling the top third of their lungs with every breath. While this accomplishes the minimum requirements for living, it does not activate our body’s entire mechanism for breathing, leaving the very powerful diaphragm laying dormant under our rib cage. During a full diaphragmatic breath, the diaphragm will do most of the work raising and lowering the rib cage, massage our internal organs, and engage the abdominal muscles. Without the diaphragm’s help, the entire movement of the rib cage is left to accessory breathing muscles located in the neck which results in sore, overworked neck muscles that develop head ache referring trigger points. These “tight” neck muscles also cause restrictions in blood flow to the brain which causes a lack of focus and overall decrease in brain activity. Taking a full breath can reduce pain beyond tired neck muscles by helping to bring the body away from “fight or flight” sympathetic mode and into “rest and digest” parasympathetic mode thus inhibiting pain receptors and reducing stress and anxiety. Increasing the capacity of your breath will result in better stamina, increased circulation, and faster healing time for illness and injury.
Taking a Full Breath
A full diaphragmatic breath can be broken down into three stages: the stomach, lateral rib cage, and chest. We’ll break it down and focus on one section at a time before blending the process into one full breath.
Start by laying on your back. Give yourself a minute or two to get comfortable and relaxed and think about slowing down your breathing. Once you’re relaxed, rest yourhands over your belly button and start inhaling through your nose. Focus on directingyour intake all the way down to your stomach so it lifts your hands with every inhale. Slowly exhale through your mouth at the same rate of inhale. Do this at least 10 times or until it feels natural to draw your breath all the way down, making sure it’s the air lifting your hands and not just your abdominal muscles.
Once you’re comfortable, move your hands to your sides around the level of a bra strap. Using the same method of slowly inhaling through the nose, exhaling through the mouth, this time focus on directing your breath to push your rib cage outward. Yourhands should feel the rib cage moving up and out with each inhale. Once you’re comfortable with this phase, move your hands to your chest, just below the collar bone. This time, focus on directing your breath to raise your hands. This will be the most shallow phase of this exercise.
Once you’re able to isolate each aspect of a full diaphragmatic breath you can move on to blend these into one full, deep, breath. With a long and slow inhale through the nose and using your hands to guide, first fill the stomach, then the rib cage, then the chest. Exhale slow through the mouth and feel for the chest drop, then rib cage, and finally the stomach.
It will take practice to feel comfortable and natural will a full diaphragmatic breath. Although it’s unlikely you’ll always breath this way, doing so for a minute or two in times of stress or while exercising will have far reaching benefits for your mind, body, and emotional state.