We all need to breathe to be alive. The simplest act of living is taking oxygen in and breathing carbon dioxide out. Often we leave it to our lungs to do it automatically; we don’t care how good we perform at this vital task, not like how we worry about other things like eating and drinking well for our health, wearing proper foot wear with orthotics for walking and our sitting posture at work.
How important is ‘breathing well’ for our life and its quality? What can deep breathing do to our body? Does it really matter if we breathe in through our mouth or nose, do we really need to use our chest and belly for breathing?
As a practicing physiotherapist,I have noticed it is a great challenge to teach people deep diaphragmatic breathing exercise. Most people don’t know what happens during deep breathing or the benefits of doing deep breathing exercise. It is more like they have never paid attention to their breathing, not even once in their life time. As we tell them to take a deep breath they usually pull their belly in, raising their chest and try to take a deep breath. Recently, as mindfulness and meditation is becoming more popular people are more aware of proper body positioning and movements during deep breathing.
Normal Vs diaphragmatic breathing
Let us look at what is the difference between shallow/normal breathing and diaphragmatic/deep breathing. Normal breathing is involuntary, that means you will never forget to breath, it is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Since there is not much muscle work or brain work involved in shallow breathing people usually get stuck with shallow breathing throughout the day. During shallow breathing only a small amount of air goes in and out of the lungs, so if it continues it can cause buildup of Carbon dioxide in the blood.
The diaphragm is a muscle situated between the chest and abdomen. During diaphragmatic/deep breathing the diaphragm expands down giving the lungs more space to accommodate more air. This causes the abdomen to rise so it is also known as abdominal breathing. For a person to do this kind of breathing they need to focus on their breathing.
How to do deep breathing exercises.
- Find a comfortable position – lying or sitting.
- Relax your shoulders.
- Keep your hands gently on your stomach right under your rib cage.
- Now focus on your breathing and try to take a long deep breath through your nose by expanding your chest and stomach.
- Hold it for 1-2 seconds.
- Then slowly breathe out through your pursed lips as if you are whistling, feel the stomach going in. Empty out your lungs fully.
- Repeat this 4-5 times.
- Every day try to do this when your first wake and when you go to bed at night.
What are the benefits of deep breathing?
Deep breathing increases the oxygen levels in your blood, it helps with better nutrient supply to the cells, and it also stimulates the production of ‘endorphins’ – body’s natural pain relieving chemicals. Endorphins prevent the nerve cells from sending pain signals to your brain, so practicing deep breathing regularly is highly recommended in both acute and chronic pain conditions.
Deep breathing stimulates the sympathetic nervous system that is responsible for calming us down in stressful situations.
I would like to share two deep breathing techniques that I do with my daughter,
- Square breathing
In this method you breathe in for a count of six, then hold the breath for a count of 6, breathe out for a count of six, then wait for a count of six before you breathe in again. As you do it you will find a pattern that suits you, some people work well with counts of four.
- Sphere breathing
In comfortable sitting position with good posture – I usually try in lotus position- hold your fingertips together to make an imaginary sphere, as you take a long deep breath inflate the sphere by spreading the hand while the finger tips are still together, then as you breath out deflate the sphere by flattening the hands together.
These methods should only be tried after you master the basic deep breathing technique that I have mentioned earlier.
So give it a try, save some time from your busy schedule to do the deep breathing exercise and enjoy a handful of benefits that will come along with it!
Gauding, M.(2005).The Meditation Bible, New York, NY, Sterling publishing