Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief and Relaxation

meditation at office 1Back in eighth grade, Mr. Hankinson, our shell-shocked gym teacher, used to yell in my ear, “Stand up straight, stick your chest out. Why are you breathing with your belly? Only BABIES breathe with their bellies. Breath into your chest like a MAN.”

He was right. Babies do breath into their abdomen. But good old Mr. Hankinson did not know that belly breathing is more natural and relaxing. Breathing with your belly maximizes the use of your diaphragm muscle, which is located between the chest and abdomen, and is the primary muscle of respiration.

Natural diaphragm breathing does not draw air into your stomach, but rather contracts the diaphragm, causing the abdomen to rise and fall. This reduces the use of the intercostals, which are much smaller and less efficient muscles, located in between the ribs. Mr. Hankinson’s chest breathing focuses more on the use of these intercostals muscles. So, it is actually less efficient than belly breathing.

Breathing impacts and reflects the state of the body and the mind. When you are scared, excited, or nervous, you breathe faster. But when you are calm or sleeping, you breathe slower. It also works in reverse. By controlling your breath you can impact your state of mind. Breathing is the easiest involuntary functions to influence.

Patients who practice natural diaphragmatic breathing tell me they experience greater relaxation, more energy, and less pain, particularly in the back and neck. This technique can also help regulate your bowel movements. Because the diaphragm gently massages the digestive track.

Practice your Natural Breathing

1. Sit on a chair with your feet on the floor or lie flat on your back.
2. Hold your hands just below your belly button. The palms should rest on your abdomen.
3. Relax your shoulders and chest and breathe into your hands allowing your stomach to naturally rise and fall.
4. Do this for 5-10 minutes per day or whenever you feel particularly stressed. Gradually, this will become your normal breathing pattern.

Joseph Alban, L.Ac.
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