In Part 1 of How to breathe better and decrease your stress, I discussed the anatomy of the respiratory diaphragm and how it works. Your diaphragm not only helps you breathe, but also affects your circulation, blood pressure, posture, digestion and stress response. Today, I’ll teach you some simple, effective ways you can condition your diaphragm and boost your breathing capacity.
When the diaphragm muscle is working well as the primary muscle of inhalation, oxygenating our bodies is efficient and easy. When our diaphragm does not work well, or there is a condition that makes breathing difficult (asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, pneumonia, spinal cord injury, chest and back tightness from poor posture etc) other muscles, called accessory breathing muscles activate in order to move the ribcage and breastbone, and to stabilize the neck. The activation of more muscles to help us breathe is tiring and stressful for the body. When we can get our diaphragms to work well, our breathing can relax and energize us, and not wear us out.
Here is a simple way to learn how to breathe diaphragmatically
- get into a comfortable and relaxed position (semi reclining is a good position)
- place your hands just below your front ribs
- keep the shoulders and neck relaxed (to decrease the work of the accessory muscles of breathing)
- breathe in slowly but deeply through the nose and allow the abdomen to rise slowly
- relax and exhale slowly through the month
- do 3-4 rounds of inhale/exhale then rest (do not hyperventilate)
- when this becomes natural and easy to do, try diaphragmatic breathing while sitting, standing, walking) in order to incorporate this into our daily lives.
OTHER BREATHING TECHNIQUES
This technique will train your diaphragm muscle eccentrically, which means that it diaphragm is lengthening gradually while still being contracted.
- Lie on your back with a support under your neck and head as needed
- Focus on your breathing and settle into a diaphragmatic breath rhythm
- When the gentle flow of breath is established, place a sandbag (or heavy bag of rice or beans – we’ve used a weighted ball) on your upper abdomen (between the ribs and the hip bones)
- As you inhale, aim to lift the bag with the movement of your diaphragm and on the outward pressure of your abdominals
- On the exhale, the weight of the bag will tend to push the air out of your lungs quickly; consciously slow down your breathing to make the length of the exhale equal to the length of the inhale
- Start with 2-3 minutes of sandbag breathing and gradually progress to 10 minutes.
- lie on your belly face down with each hand resting on the opposite elbow and your forehead resting on your forearms
- as you inhale, feel your abdomen press down against the floor and your back gently reach up towards the ceiling
- continue to breathe slowly and smoothly for up to ten minutes
1:2 Ratio Breathing
Like sandbag breathing, this technique works to strengthen the control of the diaphragm muscle as it slowly relaxes on the exhale
- breathe normally for a few breath cycles
- elongate the exhale so that it is twice as long as the inhale
- discontinue and return to regular smooth breathing if you discomfort or shortness of breath
Mobilizing the Chest
If there is tightness and decreased motion in the chest, shoulder girdle or trunk, this limits the excursion of the diaphragm and thus the depth of our breathing. If you have ever slouched over your computer for hours and have felt exhausted as a result, a main reason for that is because you are not able to take full breaths. When an area of the trunk has some immobility, that part does not expand fully during inhalation. Below are movements that you can do in conjunction with focused breathing, to help improve breathing efficiency.
Mobilizing one side of the chest
- Bend away from the tight side during the inhale.
- Bend toward the tight side during the exhale
Mobilizing the Upper Chest and Pec Muscles
Sit with your hands clasped behind your head and open up your elbows on the inhalation (A). Bring elbows together and bend your upper body forward during the exhale (B).
Mobilize Upper Chest and Shoulders
Chest expansion is enhanced when we move both arms overhead on the inhale . The exhale is enhanced by reaching the arms to the floor.