Deep Breathing 101

Posted on February 15, 2010 by

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Samantha Gilman

Make Deep Breathing a Priority for Healthy Living:

Shallow breathing (or chest breathing) causes a constriction of the chest and lung tissue over time, decreasing oxygen flow and delivery to your tissues. Over time shallow breathing can result in fatigue, mental fog and decreased tissue function. Deep, rhythmic breathing expands the diaphragm muscle, the cone-shaped muscle under your lungs, expanding the lung’s air pockets, invoking the relaxation response, and massaging the lymphatic system.  In a 2005 review and analysis of several studies, Richard Brown, MD and Patricia Gerbarg, MD reported that yogic deep-breathing techniques were extremely effective in handling depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders.

If you think you can’t find time to practice deep breathing exercises regularly, take a deep resounding breath, then think again. The irony here is that women forget to breathe because they are so busy sorting what they need to do for everyone else, yet deep breathing is something you can do just about anywhere while doing just about anything — while washing dishes, grocery shopping, or commuting to work, while listening to others, standing in the shower, or sitting in a meeting. If you must, post sticky-notes with the word “Breathe” around your house, your desktop or your steering wheel. Stoplights make a good reminder too.  Breathing is something you simply must do to live — so make the most of it, and receive the benefits of breathing deep!!

Simple deep breathing – truly an essential exercise

The most basic thing to remember is that your breath begins with a full exhalation (I know this seems counterintuitive, but it’s true). You can’t inhale fully until you empty your lungs completely.  This assists in getting out all of the stale air from the bottom of the lungs. It is also important to breathe in through your nose.

Now try this: Sit in a comfortable position with your hands on your knees. Relax your shoulders. On your next exhalation, breathe out slowly through your nose, counting to five. Tense your abdominal muscles, drawing in your diaphragm to help your lungs deflate. At the bottom of your breath, pause for two counts, then inhale slowly to the count of five. Expand your belly as you breathe in. Now close your eyes and repeat 5–10 times. Think of your diaphragm as the pump and your breath as the power.

If you find that your mind wanders during this exercise, don’t worry. Just refocus on your counting. Some people find it helpful to think of a happy color (like yellow) when they breathe in and a droopy color as they breathe out (like grey). As your awareness of your breath increases, you’ll find that it becomes easier to breathe deeply without so much attention.