Breathing is something we often take for granted. Believe it or not, just remembering how to breathe is one of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce stress and feel better instantly. By breathing properly, you can shut down your body’s fight or flight response and activate your relaxation response. This might sound funny, but the truth is that many of us have forgotten how we’re supposed to breathe.
Have you ever watched a baby breathe? You’ll notice that the baby’s torso rises and falls with each breath. When you take a closer look, you notice that it’s not the baby’s chest that rises and falls, it’s actually her diaphragm, the muscle between the chest and abdominal cavity.
Now take a few moments to focus on your own breathing. If you’re like most people, you may notice that your shoulders rise up slightly toward your ears and that your chest expands as you inhale, and contracts as you exhale. You may discover that your belly doesn’t move at all, or that you’re holding your stomach in. Perhaps you realize that you’re holding your breath. This is called chest breathing. This is not your natural state of breathing; it is a conditioned response to stress. We get in the habit of breathing this way and this habit alone can keep our fight or flight response activated.
My first introduction to abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing was in Dr. Joan Borysenko’s classic book on mind-body awareness entitled, Minding the Body, Mending the Mind. In her book, Dr. Borysenko explains how important it is to learn how to breathe correctly to initiate the relaxation response.
Abdominal/belly breathing is nothing new. In fact, many healing traditions teach that the key to calming the mind is through the breath. The breath is the one body function that happens automatically, but that we can also consciously control. When you begin to pay attention to your breath, you discover that your breath and your mind are deeply linked.
Remembering How to Breathe:
Get into a comfortable position, sit upright in a chair or lay flat on your back. Make sure your clothes are comfortable and not restricting your belly. Try to keep your back as straight as possible. If you’re sitting, make sure your shoulders are down and relaxed.
- Relax your jaw.
- Begin by breathing in slowly and evenly through your nostrils. You might want to place your fingertips lightly on your abdomen. Take a deep breath in through your nostrils, and then release it through your mouth, making the sound “Ahh.” Gently contract your abdomen to expel the last bit of stale air. You will naturally inhale a full belly breath
- Feel your abdomen rise and fall with each breath. If you’re having trouble, imagine that you’re blowing up your belly like a balloon with each inhalation.
- You only need to breathe out deeply once or twice per session for it to be effective.
- Keep practicing these slow deep breaths for a few minutes.
- Don’t strain or try to force air into your lungs, just breathe easily and rhythmically.
Just two or three minutes of this type of breathing activates the relaxation response, lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, and increases the production of endorphins -your body’s natural painkillers.1 Try to practice this breathing exercise two or three times daily if you can. It’s absolutely free and you can do it anywhere.
- Kaushik RM, Kaushik R, Mahajan SK, Rajesh V. Effects of mental relaxation and slow breathing in essential hypertension. Complement Ther Med. 2006;14:120–6. http://www.complementarytherapiesinmedicine.com/article/S0965-2299(05)00148-2/fulltext
Michelle Corey, C.N.W.C., FMC, is a Wellness Recovery Specialist, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, researcher and author. Michelle studied holistic nutrition at Clayton College of Natural Health and completed a comprehensive 2-year practical program at Academy of Functional Medicine and Genomics. Since reversing her autoimmune condition, Michelle has helped hundreds of people reverse autoimmune and other chronic conditions. She is currently an advisor to the Academy of Functional Medicine and Genomics and the Functional Medical University. She is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants. Michelle and offers Functional Mind-Body healing retreats, workshops and online courses.