Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Diaphragmatic Breathing

I used to see a therapist who would stop me in the middle of a sentence when I started to get agitated, and remind me to breathe into my abdomen. Sometimes, this was a welcome intrusion, sometimes it could be annoying (after all, I was paying good money for this session and the idea of stopping for a minute until my breathing was regulated bothered me a bit). She was right, of course. My mind got a lot clearer and my ability to deal with my emotions improved whenever I remembered to breathe into my belly.

Abdominal, or diaphragmatic breathing is an easy and effective way to reduce our stress almost instantly. When faced with an external stressor, we tend to breathe in shallow breaths in our chest (thoracic breathing). This is a signal to the nervous system that there is danger afoot, and breathing in this way can engage the flight, fight, or freeze response in the brain. Diaphragmatic breathing, on the other hand, engages the relaxation response, sending a signal to the nervous system that in this moment everything is just fine.

Try to be mindful of how you are breathing today. Pay particular attention to those times when you find yourself breathing in the chest, and consciously allow the breath to drop down into your belly. Let the abdomen expand gently with the inhale, and recede gently with the exhale. Be on the lookout for thoracic breathing when you are in stressful or anxiety-provoking situations. You may be surprised how often you are breathing into the chest. After you become aware of this and move the breath into the abdomen, notice the response of the body and mind. 


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