The emotional, mental, and physical health benefits that come from healthy breathing patterns are often overlooked.
You and I breathe all day, every day, but how often do we actually slow down enough to notice how our breathing is going? If you’re like most, it isn’t very often. We take breathing for granted because it is so habitual. If we didn’t breathe, we would not be alive. In a sense, it all starts and ends with our breathing.
What is the first thing babies do when they are born? They cry… so they can take their first BREATH.
What signals the end of a life? A final BREATH.
Across our lifetime, we can develop maladaptive breathing patterns depending on our stress levels. When we are stressed, living with PTSD, or experiencing trauma triggers, our automatic response is to move our breathing into our chest. These tight, short, intense, irregular breaths barely engage our diaphragm (the diaphragm’s main purpose is to facilitate breathing). When our diaphragms are not guiding our breath, then our neck and shoulder muscles take over and tense up to move the breath in and out of our lungs instead. When we breathe this way, we signal to our nervous system that something is wrong. Our fight, flight, or freeze response is activated, and the cycle of stressed breathing and experiences of anxiety and stress continue.
Sometimes we are stuck in a stressed breathing pattern for years without even knowing it.
An easy way to check out your breathing pattern is by watching yourself breathe in the mirror. If your shoulders rise and fall slightly when you breathe, you are likely breathing using your neck and chest muscles. This signals stress to the brain and body. If your belly and lungs are slightly expanding and contracting, and your shoulders are not rising and falling, then you are likely breathing in the healthy way that you are intended to by using your diaphragm. Healthy diaphragm breathing regulates and balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and signals to your brain and body that you are safe and can remain calm.
If your breathing is stressed, the good news is, you have the ability to change and regulate how you breathe! Shifting into a healthy breathing pattern can have incredibly positive impacts on our mental, emotional and physical well-being. It just takes a bit of practice.
The first step is simple:
Take 5 minutes a day to start, and lay on your back with your hands on your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is at the top of your belly and beneath your lungs.
Focus on breathing with your diaphragm guiding your breath. Allow your belly and lungs to rise and expand on the in-breath, and fall on the out-breath. You will find this pattern quite easily, because after all, our bodies are meant to breathe this way, but they may have forgotten over time.
Here is a short breathing exercise to follow, think of the circle that is expanding and shrinking as your diaphragm, lungs, and belly.
Benefits of healthy breathing patterns:
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Better circulation in the body
- Feeling more awake due to increased oxygen in the brain
- Improved sleeping patterns
- Improved digestive system function
- Reduced “foggy brain”
- An increased sense of calm
Re-discovering your healthy, innate breathing pattern is right at your fingertips, it just takes some patience and practice, and you have everything you need to start. Research shows it takes 6 weeks to 2 months to re-train your breathing pattern.
If nothing else, make 2021 a little better by re-discovering your breath!