We as Americans clearly struggle with a nationwide epidemic of poor health. This epidemic is followed swiftly by an unwavering movement towards creating health amongst every person, everywhere. What impacts our health? Poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyles, stress, lack of sleep, and heredity issues are just a few in a long list. I support and will never dispute the need for proper nutrition, exercise, and routine check-ups from a physician. Why not start with a basic and fundamental approach to changing our lives in a healthy direction? This approach is simply breathing; more specifically diaphragmatic breathing. The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle just below our ribs that is the primary muscle of breathing, or respiration. Accessory, or alternate, muscles of breathing are located between the ribs, in the chest, as well as the neck.
Diaphragmatic breathing can be performed in any position. You will find it easiest to learn while lying on your back. Alter your positions to prone, sitting and standing. You will then continue as follows:
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach
- Take long slow breaths that fill your lungs
- Each breath should be taken in such a way that the hand on your stomach should rise and fall while maintaining as little movement as possible under the hand on your chest.
By doing this you will utilize, for the most part, only the diaphragm in respiration and reduce the stresses placed on the accessory muscles. This can be helpful for those dealing with neck area pain by limiting accessory muscle conractions and reducing tension. Diaphragmatic breathing will also allow a deeper breath, utilizing more of the lungs and improving the amount of oxygen used with each breath. Improved oxygen consumption is beneficial for reducing fatigue, improving oxygen availability to all of our body tissues, and cause overall relaxation helping to reduce stress. Improvements in energy, mood, and tolerance to stressful situations can also be achieved by simply changing our breathing patterns. Work of the heart is also reduced as a greater amount of oxygen is present in the blood and can be delivered to the body in fewer heartbeats. Diaphragmatic breathing has also been proven to be helpful in treatment of hyperventilation, anxiety disorders, and stuttering.
We may not realize we are breathing improperly, utilizing mostly the chest and accessory musculature to live our daily lives. We unknowingly place greater stresses on our body to achieve the same result. This skill can be trained and once it is learned, it may become a natural and instinctive form of respiration. Take just a few minutes a day, and put your breathing to the test.