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An Easy Answer for Better Health

So, are you waiting with bated breath for the the second part of the article? (Get the humor?…bated breath… had to do it, sorry.) As mentioned in yesterday’s article, changing one’s breathing pattern is a simple step toward optimal health. If you recall from yesterday’s article, the modern body is often working in a maladaptive breathing state, in other words, breathing through the chest most of the time with little to no excursion of the belly. This is a fight or flight pattern of the autonomic nervous system. It is the opposite of what occurs with diaphragmatic breathing–the “rest and digest” strategy for body function.

Speaking of rest and digest, did you know that 60% of people seeking treatment at the GI doctor’s office do so because of functional gastrointestinal problems. This means that things aren’t moving through their system well causing discomfort even though their testing appears “normal.” Of course diet may be a large factor but many people report abdominal discomfort despite a good diet. Maybe we should consider the resting breathing patterns of individuals with GI distress. “Rest and digest” starts with breathing. If the body works efficiently when breathing, one would expect that there would be positive impact on digestion. “Rest” doesn’t get linked with “digest” coincidentally. Digestion works optimally when the body is relaxed. Diaphragmatic breathing helps relax the body and turns off the sympathetic (fight or flight) response. Are you making the connection?

The average respiratory rate (RR) of Americans is said to be on the rise. Elevated RR is often a sign of illness just like a fever. If we as a nation are breathing faster at rest, what is this saying about our overall health? Diaphragmatic breathing, if done correctly, can slow down RR and be a switch for a more relaxed state of well being. Are you seeing the health connection yet?

Now for the test. Assess your ability to abdomino-diaphragmatically breathe. Choose a place that’s quiet and comfortable. Focus but don’t try too hard. This can cause muscles to tense up and the goal is relaxation. Try reclining or lying on your back. Start by taking an exhale. Yes, I did say exhale. This will help to take the tension out of your abdominals. Breathe in through your nose (and/or mouth if you can’t take a breath in through your nose very well). Fill up your belly with the air not your chest. The goal is to keep your chest relaxed and allow the inhale to go into your belly and/or your back. As you slowly exhale through your nose or mouth, feel the belly lower or fall back in towards the spine. Practice this for 10-15 minutes trying to breathe out for 3-4 seconds then in for 3-4 seconds. That seems like a long time doesn’t it? Like anything else, practice makes perfect. Allowing yourself the time and space to relax is really important. It’s the whole reason to do this, right? So don’t rush it. Take the time to do it every day even if you only remember before you go to bed. Doing this daily can make the practice more automatic again.

When we review this technique in the clinic with people, we commonly get a response like, “This is not possible. This is not the way that people breathe.” This is because many people paradoxically breathe. For example, they fill up their chests on inhaling or push the belly out when exhaling. Maybe you are finding that you are one of these people. Maybe you are also suffering from digestive issues, high blood pressure, or anxiety. Abdomino-diaphragmatic breathing can be a great safe compliment to other treatments. Try it. See if you notice a difference in your symptoms or sense of well being after practicing this regularly for a week or two. Let us know if it made a difference!

If you would like to learn more about diaphragmatic breathing, we offer complimentary breathing screens at Rebalance and workshops to help you determine if you are breathing well. If you are unsure if you are doing this correctly or want some strategies to improve your breathing and your health, give us a call and breathe easy!

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