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This command seems simple enough doesn’t it? But many of us go throughout our day paying no attention to our breath. Why would we since it is an automatic process that our body does unconsciously for us? This is true, but breathing can have much more profound effects on the body then just bringing essential oxygen to our tissues for survival. Studies has shown that bringing conscious awareness to breath and deepening your breath can help decrease stress, have positive effects on cardiovascular related diseases and allow both your mental and physical body to RELAX (Martarelli et. al, 2011) a word that many of us tend to bypass and disregard in our busy lives. Relaxation is essential for recovery for both the mental and physical body!
So what’s so important about bringing awareness to your breath?
When you bring awareness to your breath, you allow yourself to shift your attention from the outside world to your body’s inner state. You can focus on things like the rate and depth of your breathing. You get the chance to ask yourself: Am I breathing through my upper chest, or more through my belly (using the diaphragm)? Is my breathing rate fast or slow?
Belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing helps us use our lungs for effectively by bringing air into the bases of our lung fields. Many of us are upper chest breathers, which mean we use the muscles around our neck and upper chest to help bring air into our lungs. Upper chest breathing uses only a fraction of our available lung volume and has no relaxing effects on the body. Deepening our breathe, and allowing our diaphragm to descend/belly to expand, not only allows us to use our lungs more effectively, but stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which has a calming effect on the entire body (Martarelli et. al, 2011). Belly breathing also helps to reduce the strain on the muscles of the neck and upper chest allow them to relax.
How do you belly breath?
A quick way to check to see if you are breathing through your belly or through your upper chest is to place on hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Notice which hand is moving more, the top hand or bottom hand. If your bottom hand is moving more you are diaphragmatic/belly breathing! If your top hand is moving more you are breathing through your upper chest. Try focusing on allowing your belly to expand first before your upper chest. This may take a few attempts, but it should come naturally after a few tries. Believe it or not we are programmed to be belly breathers at rest.
We wouldn’t be able to do the things we do without breathing. So why not give our one and only vessel (our body) some TLC by taking the time to breath
No equipment required! You can try this technique anywhere; while you are driving in the car, walking the dog, listening to your music, watching your kids at their sport practices, focus on your breath. Allow your belly to rise first, and then continue to take air in through your chest. Allow yourself to relax, even if it just for a few minutes, your body and mind will thank you for it.
It should be noted for people who have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or any other obstructive pulmonary disease that deep diaphragmatic breathing may not be the best for you. You can talk to your family doctor or local PT about this more (Alaudah et. al, 2017)
Martarelli, D., Cocchioni, M., Scuri, S., & Pompei, P. (2011). Diaphragmatic breathing reduces exercise-induced oxidative stress. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2011.
Alaudah, S. A. S., Maher, A., & Addelmoniem, A. (2017). EFFECTS OF DEEP DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING IN COPD PATIENTS.
|Author- Brittany is a physiotherapist who graduated from Dalhousie University in 2016 with a Master’s of Science in Physiotherapy. Her main clinical interest is neuro science and restoring functional movement patterns. She is a firm believer in the mind-body connection and enjoys incorporating this throughout her treatment sessions. Her treatment philosophy is to help people become more aware of their bodies, their physical stressors and abilities in order to help them get back to their work, family and activity.|