Breathing involves the whole body and I hope to help you become more aware of the movement involved. Correct breathing involves breathing into the chest and into the abdomen. However I find many of my patients are what we call “chest breathers”. When they inhale the chest rises, as well as the shoulders sometimes and the abdomen isn’t a part of the process. It is often the breathing pattern we might revert to when we are very stressed, anxious or fearful.
To see if you are a chest breather or an abdominal breather, we will do the following exercise.
Lying down, place a hand on your abdomen over the belly button or below it, and place one hand on your chest over the breastbone. Breathe in normally a couple of times.
Watch which of your hands moves. Did your hand over the belly button move up? Or did it stay pretty still? If the abdominal hand moved some you probably breath into your abdomen also. If you, like many people didn’t feel any movement in the abdomen then practice the following exercise to start doing abdominal breathing.
With your hand or hands on the abdomen, apply a little pressure on the abdomen by pushing down. With the pressure there breath in with the intention of making your hands move up. It may take a few times to get it. When you exhale, you might want to push down a little more with your hands aiding the movement of the belly inwards. Breathe into your abdomen allowing your hands to move up with the breath in, and down with the breath out. (The hands remain in contact with the abdomen the whole time). Do this breathing pattern several times breathing in and out through your nose.
It may help to imagine that there is a water pitcher with the opening at your nose and the base in your abdomen. When you breath in the air fills the bottom of the pitcher first then goes to the top. So you are breathing in through your nose allowing the breath to go to the bottom of the pitcher and it fills the pitcher up until it is full at the top. When you exhale the pitcher empties from the top and until all is out at the bottom.
After you have mastered this part, and it may take several sessions of trying the above process to get the feeling and process, then add the following to the breathing.
Breathing to help relaxation:
Breathe in and out for the same amount of time. For example breathe in to the count of 4… 1 -2-3-4. Breathe out to the count of 4… 1-2-3-4. You are breathing the same rate on inspiration and expiration. Take slow deep breaths counting to 4, pause for the count of 1 and then breathe out to the count of 4. Repeat this breathing for several rounds.
An image that may help is imagining an ocean wave coming into the shore and then moving away from the shore. It is moving in and out.
Now that you have this pattern you may do it in any position, laying, sitting, standing. It is a good breathing pattern to use before you meditate, when you need to calm or relax yourself, when you need to be able to concentrate well, or just relax for a moment. It is harder to be as tense when you are able to breathe more deeply and have the diaphragm move as this breathing exercise does.
In the podcast section are guided relaxation recordings to further enhance your relaxation.
K Bynum, DO