Updated: Oct 30
The Power of Diaphragmatic Breathing: A Gateway to Calmness and Well-Being
UNDERSTANDING DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING
In the midst of our fast-paced lives, filled with constant stress and distractions, finding inner peace and tranquility has become more important than ever. Fortunately, one of the most effective and accessible tools to achieve this lies within us - diaphragmatic breathing. Often overlooked, this simple yet powerful breathing technique can profoundly impact our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
I'm guessing you don't tend to think much about breathing - as your body knows how to take care of that for you without you having to consciously get involved, right? Correct. But when you get into a state of stress, your sympathetic (fight or flight) responses kick in and you find yourself dealing not only with muscular tension but before you know it, your heart rate is up and breathing is also becoming a bit shallower. Sometimes you feel as if you can’t quite get a full breath in. This can be a sign of anxiety. Often we don't even realise we are anxious or stressed until we start to feel the tightness around our shoulders, neck and back muscles. Maybe you think that having tight neck and shoulder muscles has become the 'norm' for you. But when you start to notice how your breathing changes, it may be time to take heed.
how do we breathe for the best results?
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as deep breathing or abdominal breathing, involves utilising the diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle located just below the lungs, to facilitate proper inhalation and exhalation. Unlike shallow breathing, which mostly involves chest movements, diaphragmatic breathing fully engages the diaphragm.
Knowing how to optimise your breathing can slow your heart rate and even stabilise blood pressure by encouraging a complete exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. When the diaphragm contracts, it pulls downwards, expanding the lungs and increasing their capacity for inhalation. At the same time the heart rate increases, enabling more oxygenated blood to flow into the lungs. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes, releasing upwards and relaxing once again, slowing the heart rate and expelling the carbon dioxide (CO2) that we don’t need. Too much CO2 can result in the blood being more acidic - something we don’t want as this can take its toll on all the body’s cells.
To practice diaphragmatic breathing, find a comfortable, quiet space where you can sit or lie down. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. As you inhale through your nose, focus on expanding your diaphragm and feeling your abdomen rise, while your chest remains relatively still. Exhale slowly and completely, allowing your abdomen to fall inward. The key is to breathe deeply and rhythmically, allowing your body to absorb more oxygen and release accumulated tension.
The Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing:
Stress Reduction: Diaphragmatic breathing triggers the relaxation response, which helps lower the stress hormone cortisol. Regular practice can lead to reduced anxiety and an overall sense of calmness.
Improved Respiratory Function: By engaging the diaphragm, diaphragmatic breathing helps strengthen the respiratory muscles, increasing lung capacity and improving oxygen exchange.
Enhanced Focus and Clarity: Deep breathing encourages mindfulness and can improve concentration, leading to better decision-making and productivity.
Cardiovascular Health: This type of breathing can help regulate heart rate and blood pressure, contributing to better cardiovascular health.
Alleviation of Physical Discomfort: Diaphragmatic breathing can ease tension in the neck, shoulders, and chest, providing relief from physical discomfort associated with shallow breathing.
Digestive Support: The relaxation response induced by diaphragmatic breathing can have a positive effect on digestion and may help alleviate gastrointestinal issues.
Even though we are born with the knowledge of how to take deep breaths, in our fast paced society we tend to forget to just slow down and breathe. For many hundreds, or even thousands of years, practitioners of yoga have practised breath control or “pranayama” to enhance health and boost the immune system. Incorporating this gentle practice into your daily routine is highly effective and an easy way to get some instant results with management of stress.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), each season is associated with specific characteristics and the balance of elements within the body. Autumn, as one of the four seasons, is believed to have its unique influence on the body's energy and balance. Here are some key aspects of autumn in Chinese medicine
Element: Metal - Autumn is associated with the metal element. This element is connected to qualities such as clarity, purity, and organization. In TCM, each element is linked to specific organs and bodily functions. The metal element is associated with the lungs and large intestine.
Organ Systems: Lungs and Large Intestine - Autumn is considered a time when the energy of the lungs and large intestine is most active. Keeping these organs healthy and balanced is important during this season. The lungs are associated with respiration and the immune system, and the large intestine is responsible for waste elimination.
Emotion: Grief and Letting Go - In Chinese medicine, emotions are closely tied to organ systems. The emotion associated with the lungs is grief. Autumn is a time to release and let go of negative emotions and attachments to achieve emotional balance.
Diet: Balance and Moisture - Autumn is the time to transition from the hot and humid summer to cooler, drier weather. To maintain balance, it's recommended to eat foods that are moistening and nourishing to protect the lungs and large intestine. Foods like pears, apples, white mushrooms, and foods with a slightly spicy or pungent taste are often favoured.
Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine - TCM practitioners may recommend specific acupuncture points and herbal remedies to help balance the body's energy during the autumn season. These treatments are tailored to an individual's specific constitution and any imbalances they may have.