Our busy, modern life doesn’t allow much time to be still. Texts and emails bombard us. The news around the world worries and angers us. Personal relationships can cause tension and upset. Stress presses in on us and we forget to breathe. This lack of breath then exacerbates our anxiety in a downward spiral that leads to deeper and deeper levels of anxiety and even depression.
There is a way to cope and even conquer these feelings of anxiety. Regaining our breath is the foundation. The ancients of India knew this and practiced it in yoga and meditation. Diaphragmic breathing can reverse the effects of stress and equip you with a valuable tool to quiet your mind and body so that you can face the world and its demands with greater peace and confidence.
In the yoga practice, the breath is the foundation for all practices. By controlling the breath, the yogi is able to achieve a level of deep relaxation and control over impulses and the mind. By retraining yourself to breath from your diaphragm, you can develop a greater ability to deal with stressful situations.
During diaphragmic breathing, the upper chest and lower abdomen do not move. The diaphragm is engaged and flexed, allowing more air to be pulled deep into the lungs. This causes the lower ribs to flair out. By doing this the autonomic nervous system is soothed and relaxed. It is the most important preparation for meditation.
This type of breathing must be learned. Set aside a few minutes every day, throughout the day, to sit quietly to focus on your breathing. You must be someplace where you will not be distracted or disturbed during your practice. Sit either on the floor in the Easy pose or in a straight-backed chair or lying flat on your back on a yoga mat. Either way, be sure your spine is straight, and you are sitting on your behind, so your pelvis is not tilted. If you are lying down, make sure your pelvis is not tilted and your spine is straight and not overly curved as this will cause tension.
Now place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your abdomen. As you flex your diaphragm feel the air come into your lungs, through your nose, evenly and deeply but do not exaggerate the inhalation. Let the breath be continuous with no pauses, so don’t hold your breath. Be sure only the lower ribs are flaring outwards as you inhale, and the abdomen and upper chest remain still. Breathe slowly, being sure you are comfortable and not straining. Let the inhalation be the same length as the exhalation. Once you are breathing comfortably, begin a count so that your exhalation is twice the length of your inhalation. So, you might count slowly to 4 on the inhale and then to 8 as you exhale completely.
As you breathe with your diaphragm, become aware of your breath at your nostrils. Do this for several minutes, focusing on your breath and the sensation of the air moving through your nostrils. As you do this, becoming more focused, you may choose to continue into meditation. This practice of diaphragmic breathing is essential to mediation practice.
By practicing diaphragmic breathing, you gain the benefit of stress reduction and control over your breath which is often restricted during stressful situations. This practice can help those who suffer from panic attacks and from asthma to increase lung capacity and sooth the brain and nervous system. When stress responses are then activated, by taking the time to engage the diaphragm and practice this breathing exercise, you can gain better control over your emotions and body, gaining confidence and calmness. Happy breathing!