Breathing is the foundational necessity of life, and while breathing occurs naturally, the way in which we breath may not be totally natural.
The current lifestyle much of society today leads doesn't promote the best breathing mechanisms. We sit too much, move too little, and spend the majority of our days chronically stressed, and sucking/holding our tummies in.
Most people today breathe via overuse of the chest.
Chest breathing is the way we are designed to breathe in response to stress – think fight or flight. In a fight or flight situation, the body will speed the heart rate, slow digestion, shunt blood to major muscle groups in the limbs, and give the body a burst of energy and strength so that you can run faster, pump harder, and either flee our fight that lion that's chasing you. The problem? More often than not, there's no lion trying to attack you in your office cubicle.
Naturally, your body is designed to return to normal function when the threat is gone, but this often doesn’t happen enough, resulting your fight or flight being activated for longer periods of time and in situations where neither response is appropriate, like during a stressful day at work or in traffic.
The effect of breathing this way 24/7 tells every cell in your body you are stressed….24/7.
Furthermore, chest breathing reduces blood oxygenation, causes increased respiratory rate (hyperventilation), kicks in the use of the accessory breathing muscles (found in the shoulders and neck), and decreases inner core unit strength and coordination (postural integrity).
Raise your hand if you have anxiety, chronic neck tension, and poor posture. So what do we due? Cue the diaphragm!
Belly, or diaphragmatic, breathing is very relaxing for the body and should occur naturally. The diaphragm is the dome-shaped muscle that lies at the base of the chest and acts as the primary muscle of inhalation.
By moving the breath from the chest to the belly, we are adequately breathing the way the human body was designed to.
Proper use of the diaphragm during breathing stimulates proper musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, hormonal, and central nervous system function by rhythmically "pumping" during inhales and exhales.
If the diaphragm muscle is not used (i.e. from sucking/holding the belly in or from chronic stress), the body will recruit other muscles to allow for compensated, continued breathing. This usually results in muscular imbalances that present themselves all over the body. Leading to pain and more stress...and the cycle continues.
Reconnect with the slow, steady breathing via the diaphragm is vital for rest, repair, and longevity.
Try it out: Begin lying on your back with your hands gently resting on your belly. Belly rises as your inhale through the nose, belly falls as you exhale through the nose.
Tip: Set an alarm on your phone to alert you periodically throughout the day to breathe slowly and with the belly. Choose a ringtone that's not aggressive or loud (think chimes - something that won't make you jump out of your seat and run from a lion). Practice daily and notice subtle health changes as the body begins breathing this waywith every breath of life.