Diaphragmatic breathing in a nutshell
If one could live by a mantra, it should be: "do the right thing, the right way, every day" - that way, all things being equal, you will live a long and happy life!
Breathing is one of those automatic processes that we take for granted and, at its most basic, the agenda is to keep you alive. If it was anything beyond that, there'd be no need for anyone to say to you; 'calm down, take a deep breath.' But they do say, 'calm down, take a deep breath' and, consequently, breathing is automatically is titled more towards survival than peace! So, considering that fact alone, deep breathing is more of a voluntary act than a natural one. Generally speaking, throughout the world, it is known that deep breathing and relaxation go together like coffee and cream or a Big Mac and fries. So, it seems, that if you want a more calming and peaceful experience of life, you need to be the one that initiates the process of deeper breathing! However, you may be pleasantly surprised at how much breathing properly helps you to manage your emotional states too?
But let's face it, there are many things in life that you know. Things that you know are good or bad for you, e.g. an apple a day keeps the doctor away, or, a cigarette a day helps you pass away! The question, though, is, if you know that an apple a day is good for your health, then why don't you eat one? Similarly, if you know a cigarette a day helps you pass away (assuming you may smoke), then why would you smoke? Of course, it's not what you know that makes the difference to your life; it's what you do about what you know; that's what makes the difference!
If you just happened by chance to come across this article, Hi, my name is Thom Bush, I am a clinical hypnotherapist, working in Singapore. I came to be a therapist, from having my own therapy and my first foray into the world of therapeutic interventions was through anxiety management. The initial part of my treatment was an introduction to breathing properly and this cams as a surprise to me. The surprise, being 44 years old, was that I thought I was doing OK at breathing but I really wasn't! Like most people I wasn't breathing diaphragmatically, I was chest breathing. They described this as normal, only because it is the way that most people breathe but it wasn't natural, as in, the way we are supposed to breathe! If you want to know how to breathe naturally, then we have to look at newborn babies; they breathe diaphragmatically.
So, being that I was there to counter my anxiety, I was taught to breathe reactively. Simply meaning, that if I felt anxious, I was to take a deep breath and, to varying degrees, it worked more often than it didn't. My next exposure to deep breathing came during my training to becomes a Clinical Hypno-Psychotherapist. This time though, I decided to be proactive, why wait to become anxious, maybe breathing deeply ahead of the anxiety, could prevent or lessen the anxiety? It seemed I was onto something significant because the links between wellness and unwellness, crucially at some level, involve breathing. This is not only in the context of providing us with life-giving oxygen but also, in maintaining the correct balance of CO2. Breathing and its relationship to autonomic nervous system function, balance our Ph levels, it also balances our heart rhythm too! In order to be well, we need the right balance of these body gases and, from where we are neither too acidic or too alkaline. So, balance is key, both physically and psychologically.
However, be assured, your brain will usually work efficiently to keep you well balanced, it keeps you alive, it helps you survive. But is that all you want to do; survive? Of course not, you want to thrive but how do you do that? Well, there is no, one thing, that will make that happen, it's a combination of many things. Abraham Maslow gave us a powerful insight into the dynamics of life's most precious processes with his Hierarchy of Needs. And, number one on that list, was air! The fundamentals of life, the absolute musts, are first and foremost, air, water (liquids) and food. Get those right and everything else's chances of optimization are immediately increased. But right here, we are going to concentrate on air and breathing; one step at a time OK?
A collective study of major universities worldwide, that study respiration, the consensus view is, that the majority of the population, do not breathe properly. That view holds true from my experience too. Experientially, almost none of the people that I meet in my work, actually know how to breathe properly. So, we know that deep breathing is connected to calmer states, we also know that anxiety is linked to faster, more rapid breathing. Yet, despite its importance, and knowing the benefits and reasons why we should breathe properly, it is not something that we are taught; but it really should be? The reason for saying it should be taught is because it is estimated that upwards of 90% of all people, worldwide, are breathing incorrectly! As I said above, when we are born we breathe correctly (we had no choice). Just looking at babies breathing demonstrates that their little tummy is going up and down at a rate of knots; that's the diaphragm working its magic.
A fundamental step I take with almost all clients is asking them to take a deep breath. True to form (more than 90%) most puff up their chest, that's chest breathing. For sure if you chest breath you will survive but as I said above, we want to do more than just survive; we want to thrive! Real-life and living are about thrival, not just survival! Many brain regions play their role in creating the experience we call life. Chief amongst those are the medulla oblongata and pons, as well as our defence system because they automatically take care of our everyday life and survival needs. But it is mindfulness that allows us to proactively intervene, to do what it takes to make us thrive! Being mindful of this natural intervention system (conscious awareness) allows us the opportunity to focus on the desire, if not the need, to thrive!
So how do we start? Well essentially we need to re-learn to breathe properly and that can dramatically improve the quality of our life. This is both physiologically and psychologically, it does this by promoting a healthy body and subsequently; can lead to a healthy mind. That said, there is actually more to this than meets the eye. All you need is an experienced guide to show you the way; that is why I offer a free consultation. For more details on claiming your Free Consultation, go here
Here are some facts!
Most of us either breathe almost exclusively in the chest or over-breathe (hyperventilate). This can be a little confusing as usually hyperventilation is thought of as very rapid breaths, causing or associated with signs of panic or nausea! However, what I mean is simply taking too many breaths per minute, e.g. 20 +.
Universally speaking it is believed that more than 90% of the world's population over breathe, i.e. take too many breaths per minute! Our respiratory system is aligned with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system in the very same way the stress and relaxation responses are. When we slow down respiration, we involve the parasympathetic (NS). This system is trying to counterbalance the effects of stress and induce the relaxation response when we are stressed (fight or flight mode).
That is why nearly all anxiety, anger and stress training programmes recommend diaphragmatic breathing. The problem though is, they only teach you to do it when you feel an anxious, angry or when a stressed event is looming. A little akin to closing the stable door, after the horse has bolted. This type of diaphragmatic breathing technique is, by its very nature, reactive and given the speed at which the defence system activates; not always a great success. This is simply because it puts you behind the curve. The more progressive programmes are usually a little more proactive, in that they advise breathing properly periodically throughout the day. The objective being, to provoke the relaxation response within the parasympathetic nervous system!
However, the overall best way to breath is by being preemptive. Preemptive diaphragmatic breathing sets a baseline that makes it, in all but the most natural and urgent cases, much more difficult to become anxious, angry or stressed. We usually ascribe comments like, "she's so laid back or nothing seems to phase him," to people like this.
Functionally speaking, breathing diaphragmatically is actually the way we should breath; all the time. Not deep breaths every time but rather by, using the diaphragm, "all the time."
The bottom part of our lungs has approximately 3 times the airflow efficiency of the top third. Whilst we will always breathe enough to survive; we may not be doing it in a way that allows us to thrive?
Here are some simple steps to help you learn to breathe in a more natural and normal way. A good normal rate of breathing is approx. 8 to 14 breaths per minute (the closer to 8 the better). An excellent normal rate of breathing is 4 to 8 times per minute. However, if you have any known health issues or you are taking medication, consult your Dr/healthcare practitioner before attempting any such exercises.
Note: When I use the word deeply, I am referring to a method that allows the use of the whole of the lung, i.e. the air goes deep into the lungs. The benefit of this is that the deeper you go into the lungs the better the effect on O2, CO2 levels in the body. The correct balance of these gases is crucial to wellness and good health.
1. It is preferable to do this exercise in a room at a moderate temperature, aircon’ approx. 26° (tropical climate), or a well-ventilated room approx. 20° centigrade (non-tropical)
2. Create a relaxing atmosphere with soft lighting and music for relaxation, maybe even some scented candles?
3. Lie on your back and gradually begin to relax all of your muscles, but especially the chest, stomach and lower back muscles. The softer, the more relaxed these muscles are; the easier it becomes to breathe even deeper!
4. Place one hand on your abdomen (just above the belly button) and the other so that your fingers rest on one side of your lower rib cage. This allows you to observe how your stomach and lower chest respond to the movement of your diaphragm)
5. With relaxed muscles, take in a deep breath through the nose (if you can), feel that breath go deep into your lungs. Also, feel the abdominals and the lower rib cage expand. Because your muscles are relaxed the diaphragm moves down pressing against the abdominal cavity, this causes the abdominal organs to distend and the belly to rise.
6. Breath out through the nose, by keeping your mouth shut this assists with Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide gas exchange. Use your mouth to eat, drink, brush and floss your teeth and occasionally to talk!
7. Breath at a rate of 8 to 14 breaths per minute, repeat this for approx. ten minutes. As you increase the exercise frequency, aim for slower breathing rates of 4 to 8 breaths per minute
8. Do this exercise at least once but preferably two to three times a day with the objective of making this the norm. Eventually doing it lying down, standing or sitting. Practice makes perfect and it will soon become the normal way for you to breathe. It will also make it easier to fit into your daily routine. The overall objective is to become a slower breather and developing even deeper breathing for exercise purposes! Also note, that you will naturally breath faster when you increase your heart rate, e.g. climbing stairs, running for a bus etc. These are not categorised as your (new) normal breathing conditions. The purpose of the breathing is to create a new, more holistic, baseline for breathing!
The point of this exercise is that it helps to restore and maintain the body's natural homeostasis, balance and equilibrium.
And it's worth noting this. Sometimes it's not so much that deep breathing makes us calm and relaxed, as it is that shallow, chest breathing, makes us anxious? So, in this context, using the diaphragm restores calm, peaceful feelings of relaxation, instead of creating them! The diaphragm, somewhat loosely, acts as a pump for our lymphatic system and this is a vital part of our wellness?
NOTE: Continue this exercise and slowly adopt it into your everyday life. When you breathe this way your whole body will benefit and work better and stay that way. While no guarantee can be offered with regard to any existing condition, it is probable that breathing this way will assist in recovery and create a more responsive immune system.
The three essential components of life are Air (respiration), Liquids (drinking) and Food (eating); in that order! So, when we Breathe properly, Drink properly and Eat properly we give our system everything it needs to perform and function well. . . . . It makes sense; doesn't it?
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