Did you know that belly breathing not only induces a state of relaxation but it is also the healthiest and most healing way to breathe? Belly or abdominal breathing is one of the simplest, most effective and elegant antidotes to stress, negativity, and anxiety. By taking just a few deep breaths, we can transform the way the brain fires and body reacts.
From a physical perspective we know that good nutrition, exercise and rest are basic to nurturing the mind and body.
Less talked about is the need to oxygenate the brain and actually, our entire body. When we’re stressed, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is stimulated and our heart rate rises, we sweat, muscles tense and breathing becomes rapid and shallow.
When we continue to breathe shallowly and rapidly for long stretches of time, the SNS becomes over-stimulated, creating an imbalance that can lead to inflammation, increased heart rate, blood pressure and pain—to name a few of the unhealthy effects.
Think of how often you get anxious or stressed about something—with no release in sight. The chronicity of this stress response is a predictor for diseases, illnesses and accidents.
Slowing and deepening your breathing is the most efficient way to reverse the negative effects of stress. While in the middle of a crisis we might not be able to think about the way we are breathing, most of the time we can. This means taking conscious abdominal breaths that elicit a “relaxation response” or the initiation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
We see how our bodies know to do this naturally when we take a deep breath or sigh when feeling a sense of relief after some stressful event.Controlled breathing triggers the “relaxation response” or the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
The more we can tap into this state of calm, the more likely we are to be clear and centered.
The simplest way to practice this is to get into the “constructive rest” position. This method comes from the Alexander Technique. You do this by lying down on your bed or the floor with a couple of pillows supporting your knees and a small, mushy pillow or rolled up towel to support your neck.
Put your hands on your belly, with your thumb at your navel and fingers below. You can also place a book on your belly. Now when you breathe in, you should notice a rise in your belly and when your breathe out, you should notice your low belly flatten…and repeat. That’s abdominal breathing. It’s easy to get the hang of it while lying down.
Then practice the belly breathing while sitting, standing, driving, spending time with friends, etc. At first, you will undoubtedly need to bring your conscious awareness to the belly breathing, but in time it will become automatic.
The constructive rest position helps you to make the unconscious act of breathing conscious until you become so good at the belly breathing that it becomes automatic and can once again become unconscious. Once you’ve internalized the belly breathing, you’ll likely notice a significant difference in your experience of stress, anxiety and pain.
This kind of breathing helps you to manage emotional and physical sensations with greater ease and inner calm.
Practice breathing in the constructive rest position for just a few minutes upon awakening or whenever you wish to get grounded and notice how you feel.
I’d love to hear what you notice from this practice.