Breathing is so essential that it happens automatically. The diaphragm physically separates our abdomen and pelvis from our chest and orchestrates the movement of blood and air through the heart and lungs.
When we inhale, our diaphragm contracts and lowers allowing our lungs to expand. Air rushes in and our heart rate increases bringing in life, energy, and healing.
When we exhale, it rises back up to its original position. Air rushes out and our heart rate decreases, helping distribute oxygen-rich blood throughout our body. During exhalation, we have the opportunity to release metabolic waste (CO2) along with negativity, tension, and practically anything we don’t want.
Consciousness of our breathing changes it. Asking someone else to watch the rise and fall of our belly and chest helps provide greater insight into our individual breathing patterns. To quickly determine your breath rate: sit quietly for 15 seconds, count the number of times you breathe, and multiply by four. The normal breath rate for an adult is 12 – 20 breaths / minute
The diaphragm is largely regulated by our autonomic (subconscious) nervous system (ANS), but we can also choose when and how to take control. We have the power to move it in ways that suit us, like we do with parts of the somatic nervous system (SoNS) (e.g., skeletal muscles).
- Components of the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS)
- Somatic Nervous System (SoNS) + Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)
- ANS: Parasympathetic Nervous SYstem (PSNS) + Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)
- Breathing = SNS → PSNS = 🙂
Stressful events are to be expected, but it’s important to notice how they affect our breathing and performance, so we can intervene! When not in a sympathetic-dominant state, we think and act more rationally (and creatively), which helps us problem-solve better.
Re-learning how to breathe with our diaphragm involves understanding its role, feeling its presence, and consciously breathing. Mindful breathing is a bridge between consciousness and unconsciousness; head, heart, and body; a skill that improves with dedication and time.
NOW LET’S PRACTICE!
For any breathing technique:
- Take a moment to ground yourself
- Find a comfortable position (sitting is a good default)
- Feel your feet: Lift and drop your heels, Rub your soles against the floor
- Place your hands (e.g., flat on your lap, interlaced over your belly, over your heart and belly, etc.)
- Turn your attention to your diaphragm: Really picture and follow its movement
- Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth (with some exceptions)
- Steady controlled approach: Don’t force it
We can practice breathing anywhere anytime. The goal is to find a rhythm that matches the way we move and want to feel. Thanks to the two-way communication between our mind and body (the central nervous system (CNS) and PNS), depth and pacing inform our mood.
3 Ways to Increase Relaxation and Calmness
- Diaphragmatic Breathing: inhale for 4 sec., hold for 7 sec., exhale for 8 sec.
- Box Breathing: inhale for 4 sec., hold for 4 sec., exhale for 4 sec., hold for 4 sec.
- Segmented Breathing (variation using nose only): inhale in 4-equal segment sniffs, hold for 4 sec., exhale in 4-equal segment sniffs, hold for 4 sec.); then, try the same thing except exhale in one long, continuous sniff.
- Belly Breathing (best lying down with legs slightly elevated): place left hand over
upper chest and right hand over abdomen. Inhale through the nose while pushing your stomach against your hand, exhale slowly through pursed lips pushing your stomach in and up toward your ribcage.
2 Ways to Increase Energy and Aliveness (from Integrative Body Psychotherapy)
- Inhale and exhale through your mouth, with emphasis on the inhalation
- Keep your eyes open to stay present
- Do sets of 5 or more. Take time in between to go inside your body, notice if and where the energy is traveling and the sensations
- Be aware of your limits and listen to your body. A slight rush of energy usually represents more oxygen
- Have fun!
- Cross-Crawl: Inhale while raising one arm over your head then exhale as you lower it back to resting position. Follow the movement of your hand with your eyes only, keeping your head still. Alternate arms. Then, add the lower body: inhale while raising the opposite bent knee as high as comfortable and exhale as you lower both arm and leg simultaneously with a thud.
- Charge Breathing: Place two fingers under each side of your collar bone and find an indent (around the middle) that’s tender to pressure. Use your upper chest to inhale and try to make your fingers move, hold for a moment, then exhale and let go.