Breath is life . . . we all know this to be factually true. Sitting in Middle School Science classrooms we were taught how plants produce oxygen, and how oxygen is a vital element for cell function and the body’s survival. However, despite knowing the importance of breath, isn't it surprising how little attention and instruction is given to the actual processes of breathing! We are all told that we must breathe to live, but has anyone ever told us the right way to breathe?
Belly breathing, also known as abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing, is a breathing technique that involves mindful use of the belly for deeper and slower breaths.
Our breath, and the way we breathe, directly effects the quality of our cell regeneration, growth, ageing, digestion, and even concentration. Given the intensity and stress of modern lifestyles and schedules, unsurprisingly, most of us are not conscious of our breath. This lack of attention to the act of breathing causes most of us to breathe from our chest and take frequent, shallow breaths instead of slow, deep and relaxed breaths. When we are anxious we take short, quick, shallow breaths, or even hyperventilate.
There are a lot of breathing exercises, we can do to relax better, feel fresher and regenerate the body. Belly breathing is one of them. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle which separates the chest and abdomen. When we inhale (breathe in) the diaphragm tightens, flattens and moves down, pulling air into the lungs. As the diaphragm moves down, it pushes the abdomen down forcing the abdominal wall out. When we exhale (breathe out), the diaphragm relaxes, air passes out of the lungs and the abdominal wall flattens. Breathing from the belly ensures that our body is filling with clean oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide without overexerting. When we breathe from our chest our body needs to work harder to intake the same amount of oxygen as it does with fewer conscious breaths from the belly which allow the body and mind to relax and stay fresh.
What are the benefits of Belly breathing?
- Activates the parasympathetic nervous system of the body which is responsible for relaxing the body for better rest and digestion
- Increases the amount of oxygen reaching each cell, which in turn activates the cell functions, growth and metabolism
- Reduces the chances of cell death due to low oxygen. Ensures sufficient supply of oxygen to the cells and expel carbon dioxide (natural detoxification).
- Relaxes the nervous system and reduces anxiety.
- Increases concentration and learning skills.
How to practice Belly breathing?
Belly breathing is a simple and extremely effective technique of breathing and can be performed by anyone. Here are the five simple steps to follow:
- Inhale through the nose slowly and try to fill lungs with oxygen completely, till you are unable to take in any more.
- Pause and hold your breath for a few seconds, till the point where it’s comfortable.
- Exhale slowly; through the nose ensure you exhale fully to the point where no carbon dioxide is left inside.
- Repeat the practice for at least several rounds, to as many as you like.
- Practice belly breathing multiple times, at any time during the day.
It’s true, even after reading this article and watching the video, many of us will go back to our hectic lifestyles and keep breathing from the chest. After all, we’re used to it, and it’s keeping us alive. But, just for fun, how about we all try and take out a few minutes each day to practice breathing consciously from the belly. Let’s see what effect this simple practice has on our bodies and our minds. Worst case, we experience no benefit, and best case, we live more calm energetic and satisfying lives. Challenge Accepted.
- Diaphragmatic Breathing. Cleveland Clinic. Available at: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Understanding_COPD/hic_Pulmonary_Rehabilitation_Is_it_for_You/hic_Diaphragmatic_Breathing
- Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. Harvard Medical School. Harvard Health Publications. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response