Taking a breath is one of the first actions we perform when we come into this world but rarely do we ever give it any thought. Crucial to our survival, our body has adapted itself to perform the act of breathing subconsciously. While this makes it easier for us, since we don’t have to think before taking a breath, it may not always be best for our bodies.
The diaphragm is a dome shaped organ designed to support deep breathing, and is located at the bottom of the rib cage. Most people have developed an incorrect breathing technique and tend to breathe using the intercostal muscles as opposed to via the diaphragm. Shallow breathing can result in or be symptomatic of rapid breathing and hypoventilation. Most people who breathe shallowly do it throughout the day and are almost always unaware of the condition.
Before we get to learning about the diaphragmatic breathing exercises or actually doing them, here’s a small test to check your own breathing technique. Let’s find out whether you breathe from your belly, or your chest.
Test your breathing technique
Place one hand on your abdomen (stomach region) near the belly button, and the other on your upper chest, relaxing your body completely. Make an effort to regularize your breathing; the aim is to observe your breathing pattern in its unconscious form. Take a couple of slow breaths, they don’t have to be unnaturally deep, and pay attention to the way your body moves. Is your stomach/chest expanding? Where do you feel you’re drawing air from?
If you’re a chest breather, your upper hand is likely to have moved up and down with every breath. This isn’t an uncommon among most people who’ve developed an incorrect breathing technique over the years. There are a number of exercises you could try to rectify your breathing technique, most involving learning to use one’s diaphragm.
Posture is a crucial factor in determining one’s breathing technique and isn’t to be taken lightly. Make sure you’re standing straight, with your feet placed firmly on the ground and equal weight on either side. Consciously relax your shoulders (they usually hold a lot of tension) and any other part of your body which feels tensed. Now place both your hands, one on top of the other, on your abdomen (belly button) and take a deep breath.
When you breathe in, feel your stomach and rib cage expand rather than your chest. Breathe out, and gently push your stomach back in, tightening your muscles as you take a second breath. Keep the hand on your chest as still as possible. If you are experiencing any difficulty, try visualizing your breath as fire, or light, something to help you pull your breath from your lungs rather than chest.
You may get tired while doing this exercise initially, but keep at it and soon it’ll become your natural breathing technique. Practice for 10-15 minutes every day and increase the frequency as you grow more comfortable.
Lie down flat on your back, in the shavasana pose, and relax your body. Now place a book on your abdomen and focus on breathing such that your stomach rises a few inches, and subsequently falls when you breathe out. Continue this exercise for 3-5 minutes before reverting to Exercise 1, which will aid in reconnecting your conscious brain with the diaphragm. Once you’re comfortable, try with more than one book, but make sure they aren’t too heavy.
One of the ways to forcefully stop yourself from chest breathing is by using a belt. Fasten and buckle the belt around your lower ribs so that you cannot inhale using the rib cage or chest. Now breathe in deeply, and you will find yourself forced to breathe through the abdomen. Keeping the belt on and concentrating on your breathing is a fast way of ensuring diaphragmatic breathing. However, it may not always be enough; it is important to develop the tools to continue breathing right once the belt is off as well.
Note: Make sure you don’t let yourself hyperventilate; breathe slowly and keep relaxed.
Body breathing, a fairly advanced exercise is aimed at allowing your body to breathe for you automatically. First, breathe out all the air in your lungs, as much as you can. Then, with your mouth open, allow the breath to be recalled automatically back in. You will find that your breath equalises itself; the same amount of air that is exhaled will be inhaled again. This is one of the most profound parts of breath training – allowing the body to breathe itself.
Don’t wait anymore, breathe right from today!
More Non Pharmacological therapies to follow in next blog