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Health Benefits of Intentional, Deep Breathing

I knew I wanted to write my first official blog post  about breathing. Breathing? I know it seems like a silly topic to write about since we do it every second of every day. But the type of breathing I want to inspire you to practice  daily is deep belly breathing which is intentional, slow, and will greatly impact the way you feel.

Those who know me personally, know I am a bit uptight and easily stressed out. In fact while I was prepping to write this article at the coffee shop my headphones were in a lovely tangled mess and with each twist and attempt to untangle the cord I could literally feel my shoulders inching upwards towards my ears. Not only do I get stressed easily but I also have a hard time being still and quiet. I am sure many of you can relate to this in our ever demanding world where there is always a noise coming from some device attracting our attention and need to respond. I find the constant interruptions and demands make me feel like I am in a chronic state of stress. My body all the while is craving time to be quiet and still, however, I lack the desire to listen and take the time.

My journey to setting aside time daily to simply “breathe” started a few years ago. After experiencing an injury from exercising, I sought the help from a chiropractor. The appointment was rushed and I was tense and hesitant about having my neck adjusted. “Oh, don’t be worried, you will be fine. It doesn’t hurt,” were the words that were said but my body didn’t respond, trust, and relax. Unfortunately, the forceful manipulation of an area where I held my tension caused a lot of trauma which has lead to lasting pain and limitations my neck. Before this incident my body was able to manage the stress and tension that I carried in this part of my body, however, it now speaks to me daily.

This injury and the treatment I sought with a craniosacral therapist has lead to a deeper awakening and realization that I needed to learn about my body. I will never forget my first few appointments with my terapist. She was warm, calm, and very quiet as she placed her hands on me to “listen” to my body and see what it needed. When was the last time, I had laid still and listened to my own body? I am used to demanding things from it and ignoring it. After a few moments, she opened her eyes and said, “you’re breathing in your chest and your left side is stuck.” She had me put my hand on my abdomen and asked me to get the breath out of my chest and down to my belly button where my hand was resting. I honestly couldn’t do it no matter how hard I tried to force the breath downward to where my hand was resting. This deep belly breathing that my lungs naturally did as an infant had somehow along the way been retrained instead to take short quick breaths that only expanded my chest. These type of breathes do not fill the body with oxygen in the same manner and actually amp up the adrenal system and make you feel more stressed.

Carol Krucoff of The Washington Post writes in her article “Breathe”   that

“Obviously, everyone alive knows how to breathe. But … experts in the emerging field of mind-body medicine, say that few people in Western, industrialized society know how to breathe correctly. Taught to suck in our guts and puff out our chests, we’re bombarded with a constant barrage of stress, which causes muscles to tense and respiration rate to increase. As a result, we’ve become a nation of shallow `chest breathers,` who primarily use the middle and upper portions of the lungs.”

Looking at the biological impact of deep breathing Jim Gordon, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in the District states that  `

When you bring air down into the lower portion of the lungs, where oxygen exchange is most efficient, everything changes. Heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, muscles relax, anxiety eases and the mind calms. Breathing this way also gives people a sense of control over their body and their emotions that is extremely therapeutic.”

Following my first craniosacral therapy session I have worked on retraining my body to relax through deep belly breathing but it requires intention. Now when my body becomes tight and tense I prefer to lie in bed on my back and spend five or so minutes focusing on my breath. I feel that my body responds within seconds now to these deep breaths. I can  feel the tension fade away slowly and the tight muscles in my neck start to loosen. But most importantly, I feel calmer.

I challenge you to spend 3-5 minutes deep belly breathing in a quiet and

comfortable place either seated or lying down.

Place one hand on your lower belly and slowly breathe in through your nose and try to get your lower abdomen to rise.  Slowly exhale out through your nose.During each breath be mindful of how the air comes in and down to your hand that is resting your lower abdomen. Feel it rise and fall as the air comes in and out of your lungs.