Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is one of the most important things I know of for overall physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. When you breath deeply using your primary breathing muscle, the diaphragm, instead of shallow stress-breathing using your shoulders, neck and chest muscles, your body’s stress response decreases, even if your mind is still spinning for a little while. Your body goes into a parasympathetic state when you belly breath: a state of greater relaxation in your body. This more relaxed state is characterized by decreased cortisol, decreased heart rate, decreased blood pressure, increased ability for the body to heal, increased connection with your body and the present moment, increased oxygenation of your blood and all organs, and stimulation of many organs through fascial connections that join the diaphragm with many regions of the body.
I emphasize diaphragmatic breathing in the Body Awareness classes I teach and in sessions with clients. For people who are not in touch with their body yet or who don’t know if “meditation” is really for them, focusing on the diaphragmatic breath for several minutes a day can be transformative.
If you’d like to try a recorded Body Awareness class, check out my You Tube channel or contact me for the links to live Zoom classes, offered twice a week. You Tube link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6-V7X1jrgBsM1q60LCy2Wg?view_as=subscriber
I recommend if you have no practice of meditation or breathing intentionally, that you start with just lengthening the exhale of three to five breaths. Lengthen your out-breath to 5-10 seconds and just notice how your body feels. Do this every time you are at a stop light, the stove, your bathroom sink and when you first lay down in bed for the night.
Once you have tried this simple exercise, you will see how beneficial just exhaling slowly and longer feels. Now you are ready for a longer breathing practice below that I share with my clients.
Diaphragmatic or Belly Breathing Practice:
Lie on your back with your knees bent or straight, whatever feels comfortable. Focus on your breath and how it feels in your body as air comes in and out of your lungs. Notice where the air goes and notice where you are holding tension. Notice if it is easy or hard to take a breath. Keep breathing and just noticing your body, without judgement, for 10 breaths.
Notice any tension, emotional or physical. Don’t label or judge it. Just try to notice and acknowledge the tension and breath into it. Simply notice for a few breaths.
Now place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly just below your ribs. Draw the breath deep into your belly, letting your stomach rise with the inhale. Try to keep your chest and neck relaxed and relatively still. Keep monitoring with one hand on your upper chest and one on your belly if you need to. Try to lengthen your exhale for about 6-10 seconds, letting your belly fall, then allow the belly to rise as breath enters your body slowly. Take 10 slow, steady breaths, noticing how this feels.
Visualize any physical or emotional tension or pain actually leaving your body as you breathe out. Keep focusing on your breath as it comes slowly into and out of your body. Realize that this is your breath of life and that focusing on your breath is exactly what you should be doing right now. Realize that your breath brings relaxation, healing and energy to every cell in your body.
Visualize yourself without pain. Visualize yourself in your most happy place. Really imagine the details of your favorite place: what does it feel like on your skin? What do you smell? What sounds do you hear? Feel the calm that surrounds you. You are exactly where you need to be.
When you are ready to come out of your belly breathing practice, take a few more natural breaths and tell yourself thank you for spending this important time to focus on your breath, on your body, on your Now, on your healing. Remember that throughout the day or night you can always come back to your breath for relaxation, centering and healing. This is a simple but very powerful tool.