Life situations and stress can often change the way we breathe. When we are stressed, our bodies operate in the 'fight or flight' response. Have you noticed sometimes your breathing is irregular or seems to be from your throat or upper chest? Prolonged periods of stress can mean that we end up breathing incorrectly all the time – many people only breathe from the top part of their lungs. This leads to a poor exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, depriving our bodies of both vital gases. This can make us feel ‘spaced out’, dizzy, tired, anxious, and can lead to panic attacks and insomnia.
By paying attention to our breath and practising quality breathing on a regular basis we can re-train ourselves and have a direct influence on our body’s health. One of the easiest ways to practice quality breathing is outlined below:
How to do abdominal breathing
Lie down in a quiet place and focus your attention on your breathing. Don’t try to change it - just be aware of it. Is it fast or slow? Shallow or deep?
Now, put one hand on your upper chest, and one hand on your abdomen just below your rib cage. Keep your shoulders and hands relaxed. Notice, when you breathe, whether your breath is coming from your abdomen or your chest. When you are practising quality breathing it should be coming from your abdomen.
As you breathe in, allow your abdomen to rise, and as you breathe out, allow your abdomen to flatten. There should be little or no movement in your chest. If you struggle to breathe from your abdomen you may want to imagine you have a balloon there which is inflating and deflating.
Do this for a few minutes, allowing your natural rhythm to emerge. It may help to count on your in-breath and your out-breath to try and keep them the same length.
Gradually, try to slow your breathing – see if you can count a little longer.
When you are ready to finish the exercise, take a few deeper breaths. Then bring your attention to the rest of your body and then slowly open your eyes.
Try doing this every morning and every evening. When you become more practised at it, you will be able to do it without using your hands and you can practise it whilst sitting at your desk or walking.
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