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Just breathe! One of Our Most Powerful Tools

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Breathing is a fundamental, often overlooked, aspect of our wellbeing. While it's something we do automatically, there's a specific technique known as diaphragmatic breathing that can significantly enhance our physical and mental health. In this article, we'll explore what diaphragmatic breathing is, its remarkable benefits, how to practice it, and the diverse ways it can be used to improve our overall wellness.


Understanding Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as abdominal or deep breathing, is a technique that emphasises using the diaphragm – a dome shaped muscle beneath the lungs – to breathe deeply and efficiently. This method engages the diaphragm and allows the lungs to fill fully with air, resulting in a host of advantages for our health.


The Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing

  • Stress Reduction: Diaphragmatic breathing triggers the body's relaxation response, reducing the production of stress hormones like cortisol. This shift towards relaxation promotes a sense of calm and tranquillity. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the "rest and digest" system. It counteracts the "fight or flight" response, reducing heart rate and blood pressure. Telling our body that everything is ok, therefore, promoting feelings of relaxation and wellbeing.

  • Improved Oxygenation: By filling the lungs more effectively, diaphragmatic breathing increases the oxygen supply to the body's cells. This enhanced oxygenation boosts energy levels, mental clarity, and overall vitality. It's like providing your body with a natural energy boost.

  • Enhanced Posture: The practice of diaphragmatic breathing encourages proper posture. As you engage your diaphragm, your chest naturally expands, and your spine straightens. Over time, this can alleviate musculoskeletal discomfort and improve spinal alignment.

  • Anxiety Management: Diaphragmatic breathing is a valuable tool for managing anxiety and panic disorders. It helps individuals regain control over their breath and emotions. By consciously focusing on the breath, you can interrupt the cycle of anxious thoughts and physical symptoms associated with anxiety.

Applications of Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is utilised in various practices and disciplines beyond yoga and meditation. Here are some additional contexts where diaphragmatic breathing is commonly employed:

1. Daily Stress Relief: Incorporate diaphragmatic breathing into your daily routine to manage stress and stay grounded. Whether it's a few minutes in the morning or during your workday, it's a simple practice with profound effects.

2. Better Sleep: Use diaphragmatic breathing before bedtime to relax your body and mind. Deep, controlled breaths can help calm racing thoughts and prepare your body for restful sleep.

3. Pain Management: Diaphragmatic breathing is a valuable tool for managing pain, especially for chronic conditions like migraines, fibromyalgia, or chronic back pain.

Physical therapists may recommend diaphragmatic breathing exercises as part of rehabilitation programs for individuals recovering from surgery, injury, or respiratory conditions. It aids in improving lung capacity and overall physical wellbeing by promoting relaxation and reducing stress, it can alleviate pain symptoms.

Pregnant individuals often learn diaphragmatic breathing to manage pain during labour and childbirth. It provides a natural way to stay calm and focused during the birthing process.

4. Performance Enhancement:

From public speaking to sports, diaphragmatic breathing fosters control, focus, and confidence, empowering you to excel in various areas. By optimising oxygen intake and reducing stress, it can lead to better physical and mental performance.

Professionals who engage in public speaking or presentations can benefit from diaphragmatic breathing to manage stage fright, control nerves, and project confidence.

Diaphragmatic breathing is integral to practices like yoga, Pilates, and athletic training. It promotes endurance, oxygen optimization, and muscle recovery. It's particularly valuable in sports that require sustained effort, such as distance running and swimming.

Vocal coaches and speech therapists often incorporate diaphragmatic breathing techniques to improve breath control, projection, and vocal performance. It's also essential for managing speech disorders.

5. Mindfulness and Meditation: Diaphragmatic breathing is a fundamental component of mindfulness and meditation practices. It serves as an anchor for present moment awareness and can deepen your meditation experience.

In educational settings, it enhances concentration, mindfulness, and intuitive habits for better learning and life skills.


How to Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing

So now that you know how beneficial it is, let us take you step by step on how to do it:

1. Find a Comfortable Position: Sit or lie down in a comfortable and quiet space.

2. Place Your Hand on Your Abdomen: Rest one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen, just below your ribcage.

3. Inhale Slowly Through Your Nose: Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose. Focus on filling your abdomen with air, allowing it to expand like a balloon. Your chest should remain relatively still during this phase.

4. Exhale Gradually: Exhale slowly and completely through your mouth or nose. Imagine you're gently deflating the balloon in your abdomen.

5. Repeat: Continue this deep breathing pattern for several minutes, concentrating on the rise and fall of your abdomen.

You can do this anywhere, anytime! That easy and so powerful!


Conclusion

Incorporating diaphragmatic breathing into your life can be a transformative journey toward improved wellbeing. Whether you're looking to manage stress, enhance your physical performance, alleviate pain, or simply find moments of peace and presence, this simple yet powerful technique can be a valuable addition to your wellness toolkit.


References

1. Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., ... & Li, Y. F. (2017). The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect, and stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 874. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28626434/

2. Meuret, A. E., Wilhelm, F. H., Ritz, T., & Roth, W. T. (2008). Breathing training in panic disorder treatment: Useful intervention or impediment?. Behavior modification, 32(3), 333-362.






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