What could be more natural than breathing? It may sound surprising, but most people don’t know how to breathe – which is a shame because proper breathing can do wonders for stress and digestion. Not only that, but breathing incorrectly can produce tension and lead to exhaustion.
The truth (unfortunately) is that most of us are shallow breathers. This is a problem because shallow breathing leads to poor oxygenation of our blood (breathing oxygenates every cell of our body). Poor oxygenation means that our body is not able to function optimally – everything from our muscles to our metabolism. Therefore, the easiest way to get more oxygen into your body and in every cell of your body is… to breathe properly! Proper breathing dramatically increases exercise endurance and mental clarity, elevates your mood, and helps the body detoxify more efficiently.
For those of you who have practiced yoga, you’ll know that there are many ways of breathing – I am going to focus on diaphragmatic breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a completely different way to get oxygen to your cells from a physiological standpoint. This breathing is deep; it causes your belly to push out rather than your chest to rise up. This breath is accomplished primarily by the contraction of your diaphragm, a muscular umbrella at the bottom of your ribcage that separates your chest and abdomen – it pulls air in and gently massages your internal organs in a rhythmic way. This is the way children breath, and it’s how we were meant to breath pretty much all of the time. This triggers the parasympathetic nervous system for rest and repair.
Here’s how to get started with diaphragmatic breathing:
1. Assume Proper Posture: Stand (or sit up) straight and drop your shoulders back and down.
2. Inhale slowly through your nose trying to get the air down as far as possible into your belly. (Your belly will push out, that is normal).
3. Pause for a second or less.
4. Exhale slowly through nose (This should last twice as along as inhalation).
5. Repeat 5-10 times.
6. Ideally you should do this every hour.
I tell my patients to at least practice diaphragmatic breathing for 5-10 breaths twice a day (before you lie down to sleep and when you wake up in the morning). I challenge you to try it – I bet you will actually feel your stress levels diminish after just a few deep breaths.