What’s Breath Got To Do With It?

Everything!  From the moment of birth, the breath enlivens the body.  In fact, our very existence depends upon our ability to breathe.  It’s also interesting to note that breath function is unique from other visceral bodily systems as it is both automatic and also within the realm of our conscious control.  

Our capacity to modulate the breath allows us to influence the nervous system and have an impact upon our emotional state.  With stress levels on the rise, there is an increasing need for effective tools to neutralize anxiety. Though there are various abodes of breath that serve different purposes, diaphragmatic breathing (also called abdominal breathing) produces the most sedating effect on the nervous system – and breathing is free!  While it is not the complete solution to stress management, conscious breathing can help us develop a calm, focused approach to the challenges we face.

On that note, let’s check in. Place one hand on your belly and the other on the chest. Take in a full deep breath.  Exhale all the air out using the musculature of your torso to help empty the lungs. With your awareness on the movement of the body beneath the hands, draw in another full breath and notice which hand moved first. Was it the hand on the abdomen or the chest?

If the goal is to soothe the nervous system, practice breathing in such a way that the abdomen expands at the beginning of the inhale. This swelling of the belly is caused by the diaphragm’s downward movement as it contracts to facilitate the filling of the lungs.  While certainly there are times when the body’s needs require bracing and contraction of the abdominals and limiting the breath movement to the ribcage area, habitual breathing initiated at or confined within the chest and collarbone region can heighten anxiety and perpetuate the fight/flight response. It’s not enough to simply take in a full breath to produce a calming effect; we also need to be aware of the movement that’s created with the process of breathing. 

With consistent use of the diaphragmatic breath, we can strengthen our capacity to effectively manage stress and navigate life with more presence and awareness.  Make an effort to give yourself five conscious abdominal breaths at least five times a day.  Then notice any changes that come about with this simple yet powerful practice.

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