Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique
In recent years, there has been a revival of breathwork (focus on correct diaphragmatic breathing) and for good reason, the results are impressive. From reducing anxiety and blood pressure to enhancing performance and postpartum recovery, breathwork seems to be the answer.
According to Mental Health UK, over 8 million people in the UK are suffering from an anxiety disorder. Meanwhile, on the British Heart Foundation have stated that Over 13.5 million adults in England have hypertension. We know that hypertension is implicated in half of all strokes and heart attacks.
Can correct breathing technique really help us both with our mental health and our physical health?
Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, has a number of potential benefits for both physical and mental health.
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves lung function
- Enhances athletic performance
- Improves digestion
- Helps with concentration
- Aids postpartum recovery and reducing Diastasis Recti
- Improves core muscles and pelvic floor health
Sympathetic versus Parasympathetic Nervous System
Far too many of us are stuck in a “fight or flight” nervous state, operating under an adrenal response. This is controlled by the Sympathetic Nervous System. As a result, many of our important bodily functions are not working to their optimal level. Why? The body in “fight or flight” response focuses on bodily functions that will get us out of trouble.
It also means shutting down or slowing down some other bodily functions like digestion, sleep, immune response, and it can even affect libido. In this Sympathetic Nervous State our breathing becomes shallow and rapid and requires the use of our neck and upper shoulder muscles. Prolonged breathing in this manner can lead to posture issues and neck pain. See our blog on ‘Exercises for Neck Pain Relief‘.
Diaphragmatic Breathing activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System (a.k.a the “rest and digest” mode). The PSNS promotes rest, recovery, digestion, and sexual function. Bodily functions are regulated: the heart rate and breathing rates slow down, the liver releases bile, and the intestines are stimulated. Blood flow is no longer directed away from areas of the body, the mind no longer needs to focus on danger.
Essentially, the more time we can spend in Parasympathetic Nervous State, the healthier we are and deep diaphragmatic breathing can help us achieve this state.
How to breathe correctly: Diaphragmatic Breathing
Correct breathing technique uses your diaphragm muscle to draw air into your lungs, rather than relying on shallow chest breathing. Here are the steps to breathe correctly from the diaphragm:
- Lie down on your back or sit with correct posture in a chair with your feet flat on the ground with one hand on your ribcage and one hand on your belly.
- Take a slow, deep breath through your nose, allowing your belly to expand as you inhale. Imagine that you are filling up a balloon in your belly.
- As you exhale, gently press your belly button toward your spine, allowing your belly to deflate.
- Focus on breathing deeply and rhythmically, inhaling for 4-5 seconds and exhaling for 6-7 seconds. A longer exhale has a calming effect.
So if you suffer from a bad back, neck pain, cervicogenic headaches, or a weak core, or perhaps you are feeling stressed or burnt out, diaphragmatic breathing really is the place to start. For more information on postpartum recovery and the relationship between the pelvic floor and the diaphragm, see our blog “Belly Breathing, Postpartum Recovery & Pilates”.
For any musculoskeletal issues, we recommend speaking to your primary care provider to make sure these exercises are safe and appropriate for your condition.
If you would like to book in to see one of our chiropractors, sports therapist or physio, you can book online at skelian.janeapp.co.uk or give us a call on 01242 254 000.