Posted by Alison T. Brill, MPH, Community Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Breathing. It’s something we do naturally, yet most of us may not know that we’re not breathing fully. When we’re born, we breathe with our bellies, also called diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing. As we age and life becomes more stressful, we tend to suppress our emotions and hold our stomach, forcing us to breathe with our chest. Consequently, our lungs never get the full amount of oxygen they need, or expel the full amount of carbon dioxide. Many of us do this all the time, which contributes to several common health problems and intensifies the stress response. Breathing deeply allows us to get needed oxygen to our brain and muscles. Plus, it turns out that belly breathing is the number one way to reduce stress!
Problems caused by shallow/improper breathing:
- High blood pressure
- Headaches and migraines
- Not sleeping well
- Irritable bowel syndrome/Poor digestion
- Circulation problems, such as Raynaud’s Syndrome (extremely cold hands and feet)
The good news is that we can re-learn to breathe correctly - it’s just a matter of practice and patience! Proper breathing:
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Increases energy
- Improves digestion
- Relieves pain
- Releases toxins from the body
- Strengthens the immune system
- Elevates mood
Breathing requires no money or special equipment, can be done anywhere, and there are no side effects, except feeling better! All that’s required is a commitment to making time for yourself, even just a few minutes a day. You deserve at least that much.
To practice abdominal breathing, watch the video and/or follow these steps below (Adapted from: http://www.thehappyseeker.com/2011/04/25/its-never-too-late-to-breathe-like-a-child/):
1. Sit up or lie on your back in a comfortable setting. It’s easier to practice abdominal breathing in a quiet environment.
2. Place one hand on your abdomen, below the rib cage, and one on your chest. Placing your hands on the abdomen and chest helps you focus on using your diaphragm while breathing. The diaphragm is dome-shaped and assists with breathing. It moves downward and upward during inhalation and exhalation. Our lungs expand and deliver more oxygen when the diaphragm moves.
3. Breathe slowly through your nose. Hold the air for 7 seconds. Your stomach will rise, raising your hand. The hand on your chest should remain still.
4. Exhale all of the air slowly through your mouth while counting to 8. Let yourself go while exhaling, and imagine your entire body relaxing.
5. Repeat this cycle four more times. This allows your body to relax.
6. Practice abdominal breathing twice a day. If you practice abdominal breathing often, it becomes a normal process, and you’ll notice health benefits.