While breathing is one of the most important aspects of everyday life, many of us don’t realize that we may not be breathing to our full potential. Studies have shown that diaphragmatic breathing (using the diaphragm) is not only more effective in getting oxygen to the bloodstream, but it also allows for more oxygen efficiently getting to the enter body.
The body needs oxygen to produce energy to move and be healthy, but the diaphragm is often forgotten.
The diaphragm is a muscle that sits right at the base of the lungs. Its sole purpose is to expand and contract, allowing gas exchange within the lungs. While breathing with the diaphragm, our lungs are compressed and expanded, allowing more room for airflow. Full diaphragmatic breathing utilizes the entire lung capacity.
Avoid Chest or Stomach Breathing
Chest or Stomach breathing is when we use the wrong body part to try to get oxygen to the lungs. Signs of chest breathing are shoulders rising or the chest sticking up and forward when trying to gain air. Stomach breathing is a mere expansion of the mid abdominal region. While chest or stomach breathing, oxygen will only reach small areas within the lungs. It is often compared to short breaths or low breaths, similar to what happens when hyperventilating: A very minimal amount of oxygen is delivered to the blood stream (and therefore the brain). This way of breathing can leave you with an “out of breath”, “dizzy”, or “light-headed” feeling.
Not only is diaphragmatic breathing beneficial in terms of oxygen intake, it can also reduce stress. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing positively affects the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for decreasing heart rate, increasing healthy intestinal activity, and relaxing various muscles to control the stress response. Here is a very simple technique to try to become familiar with diaphragmatic breathing:
1. While laying down, place one hand on your abdomen – just below the rib cage, and the other hand on your chest.
2. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose. Imagine that your breath is being drawn in through the belly and up into the rib cage, expanding it front, back and both sides.
3. Your shoulders should remain as still as possible.
4. Tighten the stomach muscles as you release the breath.
If laying down is difficult, this can also be performed while sitting or standing. It is suggested that practicing 5-10 minutes, 3-4 days a week will help adapt your body to naturally begin breathing through the diaphragm. The human body has its own built-in stress relief, and many of us don’t even know it!
If you need help making this a regular practice in your life, join our yoga classes, where the practice of breathing and letting go are key. Or request a consultation for biofeedback therapy.