Diaphragmatic breathing: The key to less stress, improved energy, & more!
It seems like we’re always looking for ways to unwind just a little, to battle the daily stressors, and relax. But with our on-the-go lifestyles, it can be really hard to prioritize our mental health.
Sure, there are foods you can eat to naturally support your brain health and even help with anxiety. But there’s one thing that is so overlooked that can actually work wonders for mental clarity, energy, and even help with your depression and anxiety.
We actually do this thing every day. You’re doing this right now—we rarely put any thought into it because we aren’t fully aware of all of its benefits on both our emotional and physical chi.
This practice is breathing, more specifically, diaphragmatic breathing.
The power in deep breathing.
Before you read any further, take a few deep, therapeutic breaths. Breath in for as long as it takes to read this sentence. Now breathe out for as long as it takes to read this sentence.
How much better did those deep breaths feel compared to our usual, shallow chest breaths? Probably pretty great...restorative, relaxing, invigorating.
Breathing isn’t just something that keeps us alive. By putting some purpose and thought into how we are breathing and really striving for deep breaths, it can actually put us in a good headspace.
Research shows that diaphragmatic breathing can do so much more than just improve clarity. Certain types of breathing techniques can even produce changes in our body on a cellular level.
Unfortunately, most of us aren’t breathing in the ways that would benefit us on any significant level. That’s because we often are only practicing shallow breaths, and according to Harvard Medical School: “For many of us, deep breathing seems unnatural."
Why is shallow breathing detrimental?
1. Our obsession with body image has both women and men tending to hold in their stomach muscles, interfering with deep breathing. Gradually, this makes shallow"chest breathing" seem normal.
2. Shallow breathing actually increases anxiety and tension.
3. The range of motion of your diaphragm is limited during shallow breaths. In turn, you aren't fully expelling and replacing the oxygen in your lungs.
4. You create a cycle of stress, which signals your sympathetic nervous system to remain primed.
5. Shallow breathing can even turn into panic attacks and hyperventilation. For those who are naturally more anxious, shallow breathing can actually be very dangerous.
So, it's no wonder we feel exhausted and tense...even though we may appear physically to be in a relaxed and resting state. Breathing shallow, or through your chest, can even have negative effects on your mental health.
How should we be breathing?
In order to to get rich, oxygenated air flowing through our body, you need to employ your diaphragm. Allow that organ to open wide! See what maximum capacity feels like in your lungs—and hold onto that for a moment.
Let's talk a bit more specifically how to physically do this.
Taking in a full, deep breath, allow your chest and lower belly to expand. Your whole abdomen should expand. Just let the belly grow.
After a deep breath, let the air out through your nose or mouth (whichever feels more comfortable)—but release the breathe slowly.
What you've experienced is diaphragmatic breathing—the type of breath that meditation is centered around.
Harvard Medical School’s guide to diaphragmatic breathing is more specific. Here's exactly how they instruct:
- “Lie on your back on a flat surface (or in bed) with your knees bent. You can use a pillow under your head and your knees for support, if that's more comfortable.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting the air in deeply, towards your lower belly. The hand on your chest should remain still, while the one on your belly should rise.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles and let them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your belly should move down to its original position.”
Benefits of deep breathing.
Knowing the mind-body-emotional connections, the list of benefits from deep breathing is rather extensive:
- It can immediately help you relax.
- Deep breathing helps reduce depression and anxiety.
- It can help manage Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Diaphragmatic breathing can reduce blood pressure.
- Breathing deeply can help manage the symptoms of PTSD.
What experts says about deep breathing.
Two professionals who can speak with authority on the topic of controlled, deep breathing are Sundar Balasubramanian and Win Hoff. Below, find a few of their observed benefits of diaphragmatic breathing:
Increases in saliva and nerve growth factor (NGF).
According to Sundar Balasubramanian’s research, while he practiced pranayama (breath control), he noticed increases in saliva, as well as the makeup of saliva.
Saliva contains a lot of antibodies and proteins, which are involved in helping with liver regeneration as well as tumor suppression.
In addition to more saliva, Sundar noticed the chemical makeup of the saliva contained more nerve growth factor (NGF). The body transports NGF to the brain and helps nerve cells either survive longer or stimulates nerve cell growth. He states, “Increased NGF could have a major impact on aging, and specifically on some of the degenerative diseases of the day like Alzheimer’s and cancer.”
More energy, less stress, and improved immune response.
Wim Hoff, more affectionately known as “The Iceman” for his world-record feats like fastest half marathon run barefoot on ice and snow, hiking Mount Kilimanjaro in nothing but shorts, and frequent ice baths for extended periods of time, incorporates a special breathing technique to improve his energy levels, minimize stress, and even boost his immune response.
During one study, Wim Hoff trained a group of people to fight off a bacteria they were injected with. Although the exact mechanism of defense is still being determined, Wim credits his “Wim Hoff Method,” which includes mindful breathing, as playing a major role in the outcome of this study.
Wim Hoff also uses breathing as a way to reach what some may describe as an elevated, hallucinogenic type state.
Next steps to achieve better breathing habits.
Make a habit to notice your breathing. Breathe deep as much as you can—it’s so good for your body and mind! Life is going to constantly throw you for a loop. Each time it does, simply take a few deep breaths before moving on or reacting. You'll find your chi (life energy) will increase.
Commit to being purposeful in your breathing. Plan time in each day to practice mindful breathing techniques. As you find yourself enjoying this new habit—whether in the morning, afternoon, or evening—notice how it helps improve your emotional and physical chi. It’s something many people don’t utilize as they seek to help manage their stress, anxiety, blood pressure, etc.
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