Belly Breathing

Belly breathing – Learning to use the belly

  • Sit or lie flat with with one hand on your belly right under your ribs and the other on your chest.
  • From this position, take one deep breath through your nose while letting your belly nudge your hand outward. Ensure your chest isn’t moving as this happens.
  • Next, with pursed lips, breathe out like you’re whistling.
  • As you feel the hand you’ve placed on your belly go in, use it to push out all the air.
  • Repeat this several more times.

Why Belly Breathing?

  • The lower half of your lungs is the thickest and most closely compacted, which means more oxygen can enter the bloodstream. 
  • Consciously breathing into the lower half of your lungs by engaging the diaphragm, literally allows you to ‘breath more life into’… you. 
  • Oxygenated blood travels to the heart, where it’s pumped to the rest of the body via blood vessels that move into surrounding tissues. 
  • Ultimately, oxygen reaches every cell that makes up the body.
  • If your upper chest is moving when you breathe then you’re not using the lower part of your lungs, which means you’re not breathing optimally.
  • Chest breathing engages only the top part of your lungs, and remember that the lower half of your lungs is the most oxygen-rich.
  • If you’re breathing with your chest and not your diaphragm/ belly you’ll likely overuse your neck and shoulder muscles, which are not meant to be breathing muscles.
Learn Belly Breathing, stretch and strengthen to aid respiratory health! – Live at 11am

What are the benefits of belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing?

Diaphragmatic breathing has proven to: 

  1. Improve respiratory function, by relaxing tight chest muscles and by increasing lung capacity. Research suggests that diaphragmatic breathing can be especially helpful to those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  2. Lower heart rate and blood pressure, and is even recognized by the FDA in the treatment and regulation of hypertension. It also improves circulatory system function by maximizing the delivery of oxygen to the bloodstream and to each of the trillions of cells in your body.   
  3. Maintain blood pH levels (the scale of alkalinity to acidity.) Blood acidity is neutralized with the release of carbon dioxide from the lungs. Deep, slow breathing helps the brain and lungs continuously optimize pH levels.
  4. Engage your diaphragm internally which in turn massages your abdominal organs and glands, stimulating them and promoting their healthy and optimal function.
  5. Boost the immune system because as the diaphragm massages the internal organs and glands it helps move lymph (fluid containing the immune system’s white blood cells) throughout the body to their targeted locations.
  6. Detoxify the body. Controlled breathing stimulates lymphatic movement. One of the key functions of your lymphatic system is to flush toxins out of your body. Your lungs are also a major excretory organ. With every maximized exhale, you expel waste, toxins, and excess carbon dioxide from your system.
  7. Maintain healthy digestive function and help ease upset tummies. The same diaphragmatic massaging motion that helps flush toxins also helps stimulate blood flow of your intestinal tract, ensuring your gut muscles keep on moving as they’re intended to.
    • Breathing deeply can help prevent acid reflux, bloating, hiatal hernia, and intestinal spasms.
    • Deep breathing also helps quell the stress response, which compromises digestion. It’s worthy to note here that multiple studies and research confirm a high correlation between digestive/ gastrointestinal issues (i.e.: IBS) and mental health imbalances such as anxiety and depression.
  8. Increase theta brain waves. Theta brainwaves are associated with the state of deep relaxation and dreaming sleep, as well as increased creativity, super-learning, integrative experiences, and increased memory.
  9. Be an effective relaxation technique. This is because your breath acts as a switching station for your nervous system, specifically between the two branches of your autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic nervous system (stress response), and the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response.) Deep, slow breathing relieves stress and relaxes you, and also engages your sympathetic in ways that work for you, not against you. In this way, deep breathing helps send your body signals of safety so that you can enter into a higher state of functioning – one that is healing, regenerating, and conducive to sustained fulfillment and thriving.
  10. Be an effective option for treating emotional and mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

Source: Benefits of Deep Breathing, A Step by Step Guide to Diaphragmatic Breathing

Learning to Breathe

One of the most effective tools for managing stress is right under your nose! The breath is one of the few automatic functions we have control over; and the benefits of taming the breath are endless. A daily practice of focused deep breathing is one of the best tools for improving health and well-being and is available to us at all times. Harvard Medical School reports that focused, deep respiration can have many benefits, as listed below.

Benefits of a Regular Breathing Practice:

  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • Relief from stress, anxiety and depression
  • Increased detoxification
  • Improved memory and focus
  • Heightened metabolism

Ready to get started learning a few simple breathing techniques?

Feeling out of balance? Try Balancing the Breath! By bringing equilibrium to your in and out-breaths, you can regulate your own nervous system.

Lots more info on: Breath.

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Relaxed senior woman doing some breathing exercises

A daily practice of focused deep breathing is one of the best tools for improving health and well-being and is available to us at all times. Harvard Medical School reports that focused, deep respiration can have the following benefits:

  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • Relief from stress, anxiety and depression
  • Increased detoxification
  • Improved memory and focus
  • Heightened metabolism

 

Stress Response

The relationship between breathing and our stress response is key to understanding how we can take control of our own stress levels. Here’s a little more about how it works:  your breathing rate is automatically regulated by the autonomic nervous system, a system which controls many of our internal body processes – such as blood pressure, heart and breathing rates, digestion, and metabolism to name a few.

para_sympathetic

If you’re in an emergency situation, the sympathetic nerves prepare the body for fight or flight by increasing the heart and breathing rates, causing the palms to sweat and the pupils to dilate, and slowing down processes like digestion and urination. When it’s time to rest and digest, our parasympathetic nerves are hard at work slowing the heart and breathing rates, decreasing blood pressure, and processing food and eliminating wastes. However, our response to stress can heighten over time if we’re not able to rest and restore our system to a state of balance. When we are easily triggered, something as simple as the sound of the phone ringing or a distant siren can set into motion a fight or flight response, which can have serious consequences. According to the JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress at Harvard University, this stress reactivity can have serious and even life-threatening effects on our physical and mental health.

 

Three Breathing Exercises

Controlling our own breath can help restore the balance in our nervous systems. This allows us to both respond with the appropriate focus and energy to everyday events and to wind down when we need rest. We can even use the breath to simply check in with ourselves at any time during the day.

 

Energizing Breath: Try this before you reach for the caffeine.

  • Find a seated posture where you feel stable – comfortable yet upright.
  • Shoulders are back and down, chest lifted, midsection lightly engaged.
  • Ground down into the points of contact: feet on ground, hands resting gently on the  lap, feeling completely supported by the chair.
  • Tune into the sensation of the breath, the sound of the breath or the feeling of the chest rising and falling.
  • Start your count – Inhale for five seconds  – Exhale for five seconds, taking a short pause at the top and bottom of each breath.
  • Lengthen the spine on the inhalation, pulling the belly button up and in; drop the shoulders on the exhalation, while keeping the midsection gently engaged.
  • Continue until you feel a calm, quite focus to help you re-approach the day.

 

Relaxing Breath: Practice this to help fall asleep or to simply slow down and center.

  • Find a comfortable seated position or lie down onto your back, supporting the head  with a blanket or pillow.
  • Focus your awareness on where you are making contact with the ground and release any tension or tightness with several deep exhalations.
  • Place one hand on the belly and notice the breath with each gentle rise and fall of the midsection.
  • Focus on feeling completely supported in your position and bring your attention back to the movement or sound of the breath anytime the mind starts to wander.

 

Checking-In Breath: Use this the next time you are waiting in line at the store.

  • Bring awareness to the feet, position them hip-distance apart.
  • Engage the muscles of the lower and upper legs, locking the knees.
  • Shift the hips slightly forward, while pulling the belly up and in.
  • Drop the arms down at the sides with the fingers lightly touching.
  • Inhale, growing taller and more expansive; exhale, maintain the height, while grounding down through the feet, like the roots of an oak tree.
  • Enjoy the opportunity to pay attention to yourself.

 

Basic Breathing Principles

By bringing just a little more awareness to our breath we can accomplish many everyday tasks more safely and efficiently.

  • Inhale when extending and reaching (for that bowl on the top kitchen shelf). Draw the breath into the upper chest, while engaging or flexing the muscles of the abdomen. The rib cage lengthens the spine and provides us greater reach.
  • Exhale when bending or twisting  (pulling clothes out of the dryer). Release the breath like the air squeezed from an accordion. The absence of air in the lungs provides us greater space to bend/twist.
  • Breath through the nose whenever possible. The nasal passageways filter impurities from the air while regulating the proper amount of oxygen absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Breathe into the chest to support physical activity requiring flexibility and core abdominal strength. Here, the ribs lift up and out to the sides, maximizing the volume of the thoracic cavity.

  • Breathe “into the belly” to promote relaxation and manage stress. During this breath, the belly pushes out while ribs are stabilized.

 

The simple principles and techniques introduced here hopefully encourage you to make the breath a more active partner in your everyday routines. Whether you’re stressed out, in desperate need of sleep, or simply bored in the check-out line, the breath will always be there when you need it.  What most matters is that we use the breath to bring a more mindful response to our environment and move away from mindless reactivity.

 

Today is the day to start paying attention to the breath!