The Well

Breathe

by Andrew Shaw on Oct.09, 2010, under Recent Posts

Breathing—Something so simple and yet so powerful and healing. 

Studies show that merely learning how to breathe correctly can have remarkable effects throughout your body.  The typical person tends to hold their breath when tense and only use around twenty percent of their lung capacity.  Sending better oxygen content to all the cells of the body can bring dramatic changes in general health and mood.  Health guru, Dr. Andrew Weil, says that if he could only give one tip for better health, it would be to breathe properly. Proper breathing technique is central to the ancient practices of Yoga, Qi Gong, Ayurveda and other meditation disciplines.  And, a clinical study by the National Institute of Health followed thousands of participants over a 30-year period and found that the most significant factor in peak health and long life is how well you breathe.

Stress, anxiety, poor posture and habit are some of the reasons that keep us from breathing properly.  We wind up using our chest muscles instead of our abdomen.  Belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, is a simple deep breathing technique that teaches you how to use your diaphragm, a muscle at the bottom of our lungs and the most important muscle for breathing.  It is often used as a complementary therapy for anxiety disorders and may also help to boost energy and stamina.

Belly breathing is also one of the best stress management techniques you can perform.  Your breathing directly reflects the level of tension you carry in your body.  Under stress, your breathing usually becomes shallow and rapid, occurring high in the chest.  When relaxed, you breathe more fully, more deeply, and from your abdomen (belly).  It’s difficult to be tense and to breathe from your abdomen at the same time.  The key to natural, diaphragmatic breathing is to begin to learn to sense unnecessary tension in your body and to learn how to release this tension.  This requires great inner attention and awareness.  It requires learning the art of self-sensing and self-observation, developing a fuller mind-body awareness.

To practice belly breathing, lie down or sit comfortably with your back straight.  Place your hand on your belly.  This will help you to be aware of your abdominal muscles as you breathe.  As you begin to inhale, your hand on the belly should begin to rise.  Now exhale noticing the abdominal muscles contract.  Once again your hand should move in as you exhale.  Expand your belly like you’re filling up a balloon.  Then exhale, letting all the air out of the balloon.  As you exhale, just feel yourself letting go of tension. You know you’re doing belly breathing right when you can feel your belly expand and contract, rise and fall.   Keep repeating the belly breathing slowly and gently for a short while.  When your mind wanders, just gently bring your attention back to the belly, and to the rise and fall there. 

This is belly breathing. This is better breathing.  Breathing through your belly will gradually become easier if you practice it on a regular basis.  After you have practiced this exercise for about a week, try doing your belly breathing at different times during the day, even when you are standing and particularly when you notice you’re feeling stress.  See if it helps you feel better and more relaxed.

Be Well


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