I’m going to expand here on a Facebook post earlier today where I mentioned that diaphragmatic breathing can reduce stress and enhance your ability to lose weight. Not nearly enough attention is given to how we breathe on a daily basis, probably because it’s so automatic…or you die. With so many things that are clawing at us for our attention, why should we go out of our way to focus on one that seems like it’s under control? Well, let me give you a few simple explanations behind some very important reasons why you should pay attention to how you breathe.
There’s no denying breathing’s importance to us. It’s priority #1, as you can only live about 4 minutes without it. What else can you say that about? You can go a few days without water and about a month without food. Breathing is our primary mechanism to support life. A life we wanna live to it’s fullest, right?!! A lot of people are sabotaging their ability to live life to it’s fullest simply by not breathing probably. I know, it’s not necessarily their fault if they don’t know how, but that’s another reason to follow this blog and my club :) How funny it is to consider that you were born breathing correctly? Just look at any baby lying in their crib. You’ll see their stomach rise and fall with every breath. THAT’S how to breathe (diaphragmatically). So what happened to you?
Years of stress and holding our stomachs in to look skinnier have conditioned most of us to become “chest breathers”. Check it out for yourself. Put your hand on your stomach and see if it moves outward when you breath inward. Another test: stand in front of a mirror, put a hand on your belly, and take a deep breath. If you’re a chest breather you’ll see that your belly didn’t inflate when you inhaled, and your shoulders rose toward your ears. That shoulder shrug is something you’re doing thousands and thousands of times throughout the day (on a smaller scale) if you don’t breathe diaphragmatically. What this does is over-work and tighten a lot of small upper respiratory muscles. This can create neck pain, upper back pain, and forward head posture (which is a chronic stress to the body). For every centimeter of forward head progression from neutral (proper alignment over your trunk), your body, particularly your upper back and neck, have to hold onto another 10 pounds! Imagine holding a 10 pound weight out in front of you. Eventually, that would be exhausting, huh? Well, forward head posture IS exhausting to your body. You just don’t realize that you’re fatigued due to your posture.
Do you know that fatigue is the #1 reason people visit a doctor? I wonder how many people would eliminate their fatigue entirely if they just breathed correctly??? You see, breathing provides oxygen to all your cells, removes waste (CO2), mainntains acid/alkaline (pH) balance, and if done correctly, reduces your stress levels (compared to chest breathing). Because chest breathing is stressful it raises the hormone cortisol. This is the hormone you want elevated when you really need to exert yourself physically. It’s certainly not a hormone you want elevated while sitting in front of your computer (although starring at your bank account next to a bunch of bills might do that). Chronically elevated cortisol levels are directly related to fatigue and fat accumulation (particularly around the abdomen). My guess is you want no part of either. So…let’s breathe correctly. Here’s how:
In a restful position you should find that your belly fills with air and expands outward as you inhale. Approximately 2/3 of your inhalation will be initially in your belly, followed by about 1/3 up into your chest. When you exhale, your belly should gradually collapse inward, with your belly button moving toward your spine. Ideally, your inhalation will fill your diaphragm so that you can actually feel all sides (front, back, L/R side) expanding. A great time to focus on this is while you lie on your back in bed. You will be able to feel your back pushing into the mattress while you feel with your hands your stomach rise up and lateral. It’s kind of a cool feeling once you get it down. It’s also great for massaging your organs and stretching out tissue in the abdominal area. You’re insides could use some stretching too (you love to stretch don’t you ;) ). It’s really quite simple to breathe correctly at rest. Coordinating your breath with movements is another thing, but I’ll leave that for a separate post. Until then…upon rising, prior to exercise, after exercise, and just before bed…focus on your breath for about 5 minutes. If you’re stressed at work, try using an alarm nearby or post-it note on your computer monitor to remind you to focus on breathing diaphragmatically.
Don’t just breathe…breathe deeply and diaphragmatically!