Breathe Right! (Part 2): Breathe Correctly, Consciously & Relaxed
|Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D., psychologist, RYT
Chronic mental and emotional stress or a medical/structural problem can create tension in the muscles and nerves in the entire body including the muscles of respiration. When you are physically, mentally and emotionally relaxed, your breathing is naturally slow, deep and relaxed. You can change your breathing if it is tense or incorrect by putting yourself in a state of relaxation and practicing relaxed breathing.
Signs of regular and relaxed breathing
Correct Process of Breathing
Neck and shoulders remain relaxed. As the breath goes downward, the chest expands, the rib cage elevates, diaphragm goes down and the belly comes out. The area between sternum, navel and perineum feels stretched. The upper back widens and the lumbar arch slightly deepens.
Neck and shoulders remain relaxed. Diaphragm relaxes, chest and ribcage retract to their pre-inhalation size and position, the belly goes in, navel slightly pulled in towards the back and the lumbar arch in the low back slightly flattens.
Bending forward: exhale
Bending backward: inhale
Bending sideways: inhale
Elongating the spine: inhale
Spinal twisting: exhale
If inhale in any movement feels difficult or too strenuous, exhale. As a rough rule, we can say, "Whatever can be done on inhale can be done on exhale."
Check and Improve Your Own Breathing
Use the "Hand Technique"
Sit in a quiet place and just settle down for a minute or two. Put your hand, horizontally, about one inch above your navel. Close your eyes. Breathe normally without trying to influence your breathing one way or the other. Observe how your belly moves every time you breathe in and breathe out. If you are breathing correctly, you should find that the hand over the tummy moves out as you breathe in and moves in as you breathe out.
This is called, "abdominal breathing" (or "belly breathing" informally). Abdominal breathing is good but don't deliberately puff your belly out. Let the belly be relaxed as you inhale.
If upper chest and/or shoulder and neck go up and down as you breathe in and out, let your neck and shoulder relax. When you are sitting quietly and breathing, your neck and shoulders remain still if you are breathing correctly.
Close your eyes again and track your hand on the belly.
Belly should bulge OUT when you breathe IN
Belly should pull IN when you breathe OUT.
Tips for Correcting Abdominal Movement
If the abdomen does not move correctly as for example, abdomen moves in when you inhale, you need to correct it. Here is how:
Take a slow, deep breath in and breathe out slowly and steadily. The next breath will come in automatically, that is without your effort. Your tummy will move outward as you breathe in and move inward as you breathe out.
If your abdomen begins to move incorrectly or not move at all or only chest moves but not abdomen, relax and reestablish correct breathing. Take a deep, slow, easy breath and blow it out, slowly and steadily. Do it as many times as you need to. Abdomen will begin to move correctly with a few repetition unless there is a structural problem.
Form the Habit of Conscious Breathing
As you begin to pay steady attention to your breathing, it will be easier for you to monitor your breathing. Any time you find yourself holding your breath or having a jerky breath, breathing irregular or faster, go back to belly breathing
Pay attention to your breathing. While inhaling move your attention downward and follow the lungs filling, chest expanding horizontally and vertically and the belly bulging out. While exhaling, move your attention upward from abdomen to chest, notice the belly and solar plexus slightly contracting and the breath finally exiting through the nostrils.
Make it a habit to breathe consciously. Conscious breathing can be very beneficial. Develop positive and relaxed awareness of your breathing.
Let me take an example of conscious driving in order to make a point about conscious breathing. While driving, even when you use the cruise, you continue to monitor the road conditions all the time. Likewise, you should monitor your breathing even when you get into the automatic mode of breathing. When you monitor the breath, you can decide when you want to leave your breathing on the "automatic pilot" and when to take charge and regulate your breath with awareness.
Beneficial for COPD, anxiety and depression
One of the most beneficial breathing techniques for people with COPD is abdominal breathing.
When you breathe in, abdomen should expand and protrude.
When you breathe out, abdomen should pull in towards the back.
While breathing in, the focus should be on the descending diaphragm and expanding lower ribs and abdomen
During exhalation, attention should be on the diaphragm ascending, the lower ribs squeezing and the belly contracting.
Pay gentle attention to this process and not get frustrated if the lower ribs don't move at all.
In case of relatively flattened diaphragm and shortened intercostals (true for many people with COPD), gently contract the abdomen and lower ribs during exhalation. By doing so during exhalations helps your diaphragm to move upward and empty the lungs more efficiently.
During inhalation, as the diaphragm moves down, simply allow the abdomen and lower ribs to expand.
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