“A healthy mind has an easy breath.” ~ Author Unknown
When I was a young boy, I often had temper tantrums. The tantrums were “usually justified” by things like not getting to have ice cream for breakfast or not being able to watch TV all night long.
As a 4-year-old, the injustice of it all was and still is truly astonishing! So I would cry, pout, and throw a fit.
As you can imagine, my mother was not a big fan of these moments and had a brilliant strategy to try and help me calm down as quickly as possible. She would tell me to take deep breaths and slowly count to 10. I would typically calm down by 8 or 9 seconds.
Calming your temper tantrum child down is an excellent analogy for discussing diaphragmatic breathing.
Let’s start from the top!
If you are reading this article, there is a good chance you’re breathing now. If you’re not, please take a nice inhale and exhale.
Breathing is usually an automatic process that we don’t have to worry about.
What if I told you that, based on research from the Cleveland Clinic, most people are breathing at a rate of 12-20 breaths per minute? What if I told you the ideal respiration rate was closer to 5-7 breaths per minute?
If this is your first time hearing this, you are probably shocked!
Without realizing it, we are breathing at a pace that is making our system go too fast and is going to put us at more of a risk of excessive stress. This, in return, will decrease our ability to relax and recover. The end of this leads many of us to have imbalanced autonomic nervous systems.
Our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is responsible for all our automatic functions like breathing, heart rate, adrenaline, etc.
When breathing too fast, we typically breathe more with our chest than our diaphragm. This is not optimal for several reasons.
When We Breathe with Our Chests
When we breathe with our chests:
It activates more of our Fight or Flight (fast, sympathetic activity) response. This can increase our sensitivity to stress/anxiety.
We are not getting the most out of each breath.
We use too much upper body (shoulders, neck, etc.) to aid in our breathing. This can ultimately lead to quicker fatigue while exercising and produce soreness in those areas.
If there is one thing to take away from this article, many of us need to slow our breathing down and engage our belly/diaphragm more than our chest!
If you have a mirror handy, just take a minute and watch yourself breathe. Are your shoulders rising and falling? Is your chest moving a lot while you are gently breathing? If so, YOU need to access your diaphragm more for better breathing.
When We Breathe with Our Diaphragm
When we breathe slower and with our diaphragm, it can:
Lower our heart rate.
Increase our Rest and Digest (slow, parasympathetic) response.
Help us feel more calm and relaxed.
Increase our resilience to stress.
Help with our sleep before going to bed.
Harvard Health’s article says, “All of us are born with the knowledge of how to fully engage the diaphragm to take deep, refreshing breaths. As we get older, however, we get out of the habit. Everything from the stresses of everyday life to the practice of “sucking in” the stomach for a trimmer waistline encourages us to gradually shift to shallower, less satisfying “chest breathing.”
Since we have covered why diaphragmatic breathing is important, let’s look at some practical items for you to implement in your daily routine.
One thing to note is that you have probably been breathing too fast for many years. Due to this, these tips may take a little time before it becomes a routine.
Take your time and be gracious with yourself as you begin:
Tips for Diaphragmatic Breathing
Practice this for 3-10 minutes while lying down or seated comfortably with your back supported:
Use a specific time or event to remember to practice your slower diaphragm breathing. Examples could be driving in the car, having morning coffee, breathing before bed each night, etc.
Count to 5 seconds for your inhale and 5 seconds for your exhale.
Breathe in and out of your nose (that will help stimulate your diaphragm).
As you breathe in, gently “push” your belly button out.
As you exhale, gently “pull” your belly back in towards you.
Here is a video that you can use for reference:
Now that we know why diaphragmatic breathing is essential and how to breathe more efficiently, you are fully equipped to use this whenever you need it.
Whether to help you feel calmer before a presentation at work, relax before bed, or even teach your temper-tantrum-prone child how to calm down, a little diaphragmatic breathing can go a long way and bring more calmness in your life.