Modern life seems to move more quickly than our biology can handle. Between media, traffic, and the pressures of work and life responsibilities, most of us spend a lot of time in ‘fight or flight’ stress response. This activates your sympathetic nervous system which dumps adrenaline into your blood stream. The result inhibits cortisol production, weakens the immune system, and sets the body up for dis-ease. Argh, I am getting stressed out just thinking about it!
Take a deep breath into your belly… exhale… ahhh, that’s better! Belly breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is sedating and calming. It releases growth hormone to repair injured tissue, regulates cortisol, and brings the body back to a balanced and soothed state.
Breathing is an unconscious process. Many of us breathe in a stress response pattern that eliminates the belly and diaphragm. This shallow breathing pattern which recruits the chest and upper shoulder muscles: (pectoralis minor, upper trapezius, levator scapulae, sternocleidomastoid, scalene, and subclavicular) keeps us in a panic. Belly breathing can reduce stress, induce sleep, and help create a new normal for the body.
Get To Know Your Diaphragm
Your respiratory diaphragm is a central and essential to healthy breathing. The diaphragm is located in the bottom of the rib cage separates and the abdominal and chest cavities. It is a dome shaped muscle that flattens toward the abdomen when you inhale and expands back up toward your heart when you exhale.
When your diaphragm is tight and restricted it can limit a healthy breathing pattern. Like other muscles in your body the diaphragm benefits from being strengthened and stretched. Also, it’s intimately connected to your psoas muscle so it can even be part of the culprit of lower back pain. By releasing your diaphragm your can align your rib cage over your pelvis and soften the pull of the deep hip flexors and tight abdominal organs and muscles. You may even free your lower back!
The benefits of a healthy diaphragm are numerous. A more easeful breathing pattern brings nourishment to your whole body, increases your energy, and regulates your stress hormones.
Try This Breathing Exercise
Lay on your back with your sacrum flat on the floor and a small natural curve in your lower back. Bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor. Let’s call this Ardha Savasana.
Place a soft, pliable weight such as a bag of rice or a sand bag over your belly button. As you inhale into your belly meet the weight. As you exhale let the weight drop into you. Your diaphragm has to work harder to move toward your abdomen because of the weight. When you exhale the weight helps it to release and restore.
Breathe here for about 5 minutes then remove the weight and rest another 2 minutes. Notice the effects.
You may need to start with less weight. A yoga prop sandbag is 10 pounds. You can find a bag of rice that weighs 2 pounds. If you experience pain or discomfort remove the weight.
Let me know about your experience in the comments below.