Balance, Self Care, Women's Health

Diaphragmatic Breathing: The Most Underutilized Tool to Counteract Stress

Life is filled with an ebb and flow of ups and downs and there isn’t anyone on this Earth immune to the obstacles life can throw at us. Life is sometimes a smooth path and other times it is a bumpy, winding road. There is no way to control the obstacles in our path but we can control how we handle the ride. Embracing and surrendering to the flow of life truly changes the way we perceive our journey. There are so many different tools that can help us navigate tough times but the one that I believe is most underutilized is simply breathing. Intentional, diaphragmatic breathing that is. Diaphragmatic breathing can be done anytime, anywhere to ease any emotion; trauma, anxiety, stress, grief, irritability, or just because…life. There really doesn’t need to be a reason because there are so many benefits to a regular breath work practice. There are also many different breathing techniques but diaphragmatic breathing is a great starting place. It has been studied that this type of breathing can have beneficial effects on physical and mental health, stress and negative emotions can be counteracted, and can enhance sustained attention.

When our body holds becomes stressed or anxiety ridden we, unknowingly, establish a short, shallow breath that encourages the anxiety we are trying to relieve. This a mentally and physically detrimental cycle to continue. This deep breathing technique, anatomically, activates the parasympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for the body’s rest and digestion responses) by compressing the vagas nerve (which can assist in lowering your heart rate). This is significant because stressful situations or even everyday stressors can trigger the “flight or flight” mode. If this physiological response is repeatedly activated it can lead to chronic stress that can contribute to high blood pressure, cardio-vascular issues and can lead to depression, anxiety, obesity and addiction.

Not only can diaphragmatic breathing lower stress responses the body produces but it can also improve pelvic floor musculature which should be a focus for women’s wellness. The diaphragm and the pelvic floor are synergists, they work together with inhalation and exhalation. They are both hammock like muscles that do the same thing at the same time. So, with inhalation, the diaphragm and the pelvic floor both drop, creating space in both the lungs and the pelvis. With exhalation, these muscles lift with the vacuum effect that takes place in the body. These two important muscles work best when the body is properly aligned. So, this is where posture becomes important for the pelvic floor and lungs to work autonomously.

How to take diaphragmatic breaths…

  • If you are seated, align your posture, head over heart, heart over pelvis, with a neutral spine. If standing, continue hips over knees, knees over ankles.
  • Place a hand on each rib cage, fingers on front side, thumb around back. As you breathe in through your nose, feel your ribs and lungs expand 360 degrees. You don’t want your chest moving much. Your belly will expand but it’s not the focus. Focus on fill up your lungs from the lower part up.
  • Then exhale through your mouth, completely drawing the navel toward the spine gently to help empty completely. This can be done at any time of the day just to relax and center yourself. Diaphragmatic breathing immediately triggers the vagas nerve which is directly related to our parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Practice in a mirror to visualize and become more self aware of the flow.
  • This can be done anytime, anywhere for as many repetitions as you need to feel more at ease. You can start with at least 3 breaths.

Using this as a tool to calm, relax, fall asleep, use during exercise and yoga, whenever you need a little refresher to re center. This tool can keep the mind and body functioning at optimum health. Breathing is something that we don’t have to think about doing, but when we, occasionally, put a little intention behind our breath, it can create less resistance in the flow of life.

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