Hello. Breathing – essential to life and something we do without even thinking about it. In this post I’m going to look at why our breath is so vital to calming our stress response and how we can use our breath to relax and keep ourselves calm.
Why does breathing in a certain way help?
Breathing is the natural antidote to the Fight/Flight/Freeze response as it triggers our body’s Relaxation Response.
Have you noticed how babies and young children breathe deeply and fully? When you watch them their tummies are relaxed and rise and fall with each breath – there are using their diaphragm to move the air in and out of their lungs.
The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that separates the chest and the abdomen. This is the natural healthy way to breathe.
But as we grow up we are taught to constrict the abdomen – who remembers being told to ‘pull your stomach in and stand up straight’? And that training, coupled with an unconscious tendency to tighten the belly when we experience stress, disrupts the natural flow of our breath.
With the abdomen pulled in, the breath is confined to the upper portion of the lungs. And because this breathing pattern is perceived by the body to be a stress response, it reinforces the fight or flight reaction.
Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, on the other hand activates the body’s relax and digest response by stimulating something called the vagus nerve and therefore the part of the nervous system that triggers relaxation.
The vagus nerve travels from the brain to nearly all the thoracic and abdominal organs and triggers a cascade of calming effects. Most of the time we wait for it to be activated by something pleasant and hope for a trickle-down effect, not realising that the nerve can be turned on from the bottom up by diaphragmatic breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing activates the ‘brake pedal’ off the rest and digest response which causes relaxation, a reduction in heart rate, blood pressure or both.
How to do diaphragmatic / belly breathing
This type of breathing uses the diaphragm muscle (a strong dome shaped muscle) located under our ribs and above our stomach.
When we breathe in, we push the muscle down and out tummy moves forward. When we breathe out the diaphragmatic muscle moves back to a resting position and our tummy moves back in. There is little or no upper chest movement.
Put your left hand on your stomach and right hand under your ribs. As you breathe in you should feel your left hand rising and moving outwards as though your stomach is inflating like a balloon.
As you breathe out your right hand should remain still – with little or no upper chest movement.
If your mind wanders just let those thoughts go and bring your mind back to focussing on your breathing. Practice this technique every day and you’ll begin to strengthen the diaphragmatic muscle – and it will start to work normally, leaving you with a nice relaxed feeling.
Remember breathing from our belly triggers the body’s natural relaxation response – it signals that all is well and we can be calm. You can’t be relaxed and stressed at the same time.
Hypnotherapy can help
Through hypnotherapy I can teach you lots of really easy and effective breathing techniques. Just get in touch to find out more.
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