We hear a lot about mindfulness programs, meditation apps, and affirmations when talking about ways to relieve stress. These techniques seem alternative and trendy, but these self-improvement applications have been around since the dawn of time. I was taught, and we teach our clients, that prior to the start of any type of mental techniques, we always start with the focus on our breath.
It has been mentioned that our breathing pattern, and the use of our diaphragm, starts with the state of our mom when we were in utero and the first 2 to 3 minutes after birth.
Medical science has shown that the breath pattern affects many bodily functions like digestion, memory, bone and muscle health, sleep, and metabolism. We see how irregular breath patterns precursors to back pain, sleep and weight disorders, and propensity to anxiety.
We take the mechanism of breath for granted. Remember it is the first thing that comes in when we are born and the last thing that leaves when we transition.
In this week’s Blog, we will briefly describe: 1) the structure of the diaphragm, 2) the method of diaphragmatic breathing and 3) the application of breath work.
Amazingly the creator puts a large muscle that divides us in half, the upper half for respiration (lungs and heart) and the lower half for digestion and elimination (liver, kidneys, stomach, and guts). Cool things about the diaphragm.
It works involuntarily, but we can consciously control it as well
It mobilizes the ribs, lumbar and thoracic spine
It can be controlled to slow breathing, which in turn calms the nervous system
When we start talking about breathing, we occasionally get an eye roll from a client. When we instruct our clients to hold their breath for about 2 minutes, they realize the most important thing in their life is their next breath.
Put your hands on the side of our ribs, then inhale for about a 4-5 seconds. You will feel the diaphragm expand lightly against your hands. Hold your breath for 1-2 seconds, followed by a 7 second breath out. Feel your rib cage contract as you exhale and lightly squeeze your sides with your hands. We are now doing what is called “horizontal breathing” or diaphragmatic breathing.
The opposite of diaphragmatic breath is “vertical breathing,” meaning the upper part of the rib cage is now moving towards our head. This type of breath brings on a “sympathetic reaction” and can trigger us into “fight or flight” or the anxiety and panic bodily response. If we return to “horizontally breathing” and think of our spine going north and south, the breathing rhythm will slow, and our bodies will start to relax.
We can utilize other methods to enhance the release of stress through diaphragmatic breathing. We can now breathe in and imagine an image of a sunset or something that puts us in emotional awe, coupled with a mantra or saying release during the exhale. Our breath is now stronger, our lungs more fully oxygenated, and our exhale more full and complete, ridding the lungs completely of no longer needed carbon dioxide.
In the age of Covid, many people have a pulse oximeter to monitor heart rate and oxygen concentration in the blood. In our practice we use the same digital device for biofeedback. This data gives the patient the opportunity to bring the breath to optimal conditions for health. Pulse oximeter may be useful for checking sleep issues with potential sleep apnea. Oxygen saturation of 94% and over is optimal while sleeping. We alsoutilize Heart math to bring the heart into what is called “coherence” as we work with the breath.
Applied breathing techniques:
When we feel anxious or upset, we involuntarily trigger rapid and irregular breathing patterns. Athletic coaches know now that if a player is upset at the referee or another player, it is a good idea to sit them down for the next few plays and allow the body to settle for 2 to 3 minutes. When the breath and the emotions are out of control the core muscles of our body become inhibited and there is the increased potential to blow a knee or ankle.
When we have to perform a task that takes precision and coordination, the breath helps immensely for both mental focus and physical performance. The ones that know this best are sharpshooters, surgeons, and artists.
In martial arts and weightlifting, applied breathing technique is used to develop uncanny power. All the cells and muscles expand on the inhale, preparing to lift the weight, and all of them contracting on the exhale at once, like a fire hose under pressure, while lifting the weight or throwing a punch.
In summary, by bringing awareness to the breath, especially through diaphragmatic breathing we now have 1) voluntary control of calming down our nervous system from stressful triggers 2) body functions become normalized for pain, increases immunity, improves digestion, lowers blood pressure and increases energy 3) able to improve physical performance and allows us to do work with precision.