Something as simple as breathing has such a powerful effect on our lives!

Inhale and exhale. So simple, right. Most of us probably don’t think very much about breathing as we breathe all the time. Breath is literally life, something we naturally do from the very first moment of our life, it’s an innate skill. Breathe is so simple, but yet so powerful.

Breath can be the key to mastering many things. Runners need to control their breath in order to become good runners. A good example is a weight lifter preparing for a heavy lift. Breath is key to his success. The archer uses his breath to shoot accurately. It is also important for mothers preparing for childbirth to learn about different breathing techniques that make childbirth easier. When we meditate we connect the mind, body and spirit with the breath.

Breath is something special because of its unconscious and conscious activation. No other body function has this ability. Breathing is regulated by two nervous systems. The first is the somatic nervous system, which operates under the influence of our will and consciousness, and the second is the autonomic nervous system, which operates subconsciously and independently of our will and consciousness. The breath is so strong, but most of us take it for granted. What would change if we would  focus just on breath for few moments every day?

Focus on your breath…

Inhale deeply through the nose and out through the mouth a few times. This can help you clear your mind, create space in your head so you feel like you have things under control, reset the day.

Many people don’t breath properly, especially many have problems with abdominal breathing. Different aspects of our lifestyle have actually led us to “unlearn” this innate skill and create compensatory patterns. If you observe a baby breathing, you will see his tummy rise and fall while breathing. Because we want to use the full capacity of the lungs, we have to breathe diaphragmatically. If we are aware of different breathing patterns we can use them in different areas of our lives. You can start or end the day with a few minutes of conscious breathing. When you sense stress or tension, breathe – consciously. Would you like to improve your sports results? Spend part of your time on breathing techniques. Using breath to improve life requires exercise. The time you invest into learning proper breathing and using it definitely pays off. Take the full advantage of your breathing power.

Why is breathing important?

Breathing is important because breathing is the key to a strong and stable core due to the body’s ability to generate intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) in the abdomen. IAP is essential in initiating, controlling and preventing movement. Different breathing techniques can have beneficial effects on different areas in life.

Different “breathing styles” exist. Here we focus on diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is anatomically most optimal, as the body uses the least energy for breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is in a way an effective holistic training of body and mind. This type of breathing involves contraction of the diaphragm, dilation of the abdomen, and deepening of the inhalation and exhalation, which in turn reduces the frequency of breathing and increases the amount of gases in the blood.

The benefits of diaphragmatic breathing are many: it contributes to emotional balance and social adjustment (Sargunaraj et al., 1996; Beauchaine, 2001; Porges, 2001), is effective in managing emotions (Stromberg et al., 2015) reduces anxiety, depression and stress ( Brown and Gerbarg, 2005a, b; Anju et al., 2015), alleviates emotional exhaustion and depersonalization caused by burnout (Salyers et al., 2011). Diaphragmatic breathing has a positive effect on premature birth, as it can reduce anxiety during childbirth. Diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety and depression in patients with chronic low back pain (Tekur et al., 2012).

What does diaphragmatic breathing look like? It is breathing into the abdominal area where the torso expands in all directions (like a balloon). The breath is felt on the side, back and in front. This ensures adequate internal abdominal pressure and stabilization of the lumbar spine.

From theory to practice:

1. Breathing in a crocodile pose.

In the crocodile pose the flow of breath can be well detected. Lying on the abdomen with the arms at a 45-degree angle at the shoulders, the body will begin to breathe naturally diaphragmatically. You can use the crocodile pose to prevent the normal abdominal tension that occurs when you are nervous. It will automatically lead you to a more natural way of breathing.

You can turn your feet inward, with your feet resting relatively close together, or you can turn them outward by separating your feet and keeping the inside of your thighs comfortable on the floor. Lean your forehead on your folded forearms, lifting your upper chest slightly off the floor. When you rest in the position, relax your breathing and start observing the sensations in your body. Focus on three main points: the abdomen, the side of the chest, and the lower back.

2. Breathing in savasana.

In  savasana a simple version of diaphragmatic breathing can be performed. In this position, the navel rises with each inhalation and falls with each exhalation.

Lie on your back on a flat carpet. Support your head and neck with a thin pillow. Be aware of the breath and feel the continuous flow of exhalations and inhalations. Soften the rib cage, it will become almost completely immobile (of course, if you breathe deeper, the chest can move, but this requires more effort, which is not the point of exercise). Then explore the breathing movements by raising your arms behind you. This will emphasize the rise and fall of the abdomen. Finally, return your hands to your side and observe your breathing for a few minutes to relax your body.

3. Breathing in seated  position.

When you sit upright the breathing movements will no longer be the same as they were lying on your back. Breathing is still diaphragmatic, but the vertical axis of the body changes the effect of diaphragm action on the lower torso. Sit upright in any sitting position (you can sit on the edge of a chair, on the floor, on blanket). Rest your hands on your thights. Close your eyes and focus on the flow of exhalation and inhalation.

Soften the abdomen and sides of the chest. The back muscles should support posture only with modest muscle tone. Observe if your breathing causes a slight expansion of the lateral part of the chest. The anterior wall of the abdomen also dilates, but the movement is much smaller than in the corpse position.

Continue to observe your breathing until the pace and depth of your breathing are completely comfortable and relaxed. As you observe the inhalation and exhalation  let your mind relax.

Till next time,

Karla

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