Imagine there was something as simple as breathing that could dramatically improve our nation’s health and well-being. Believe it or not, there is. The way you breathe powerfully affects every system in your body (cardiovascular, nervous, endocrine, lymph, immune, digestive, and of course, respiratory). Through breath training, you can learn to change the way you breathe to take advantage of this. Diaphragmatic breathing is a healthier way to breathe, and it's easy to learn. Numerous studies have demonstrated that when people suffering from conditions ranging from asthma and hypertension to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and even chronic pain learn healthy breathing techniques, their symptoms improve.
THE DETAILS: You may be wondering, why would anyone need to be trained to breathe? And yes, we do all start out as experts. If you watch a baby breathe, you will see the infant's belly rise and fall with each breath. And that's really all there is to diaphragmatic breathing: Full, natural breathing that engages the diaphragm, a thin sheet of muscle that lies below your lungs. Every time you breathe in, the diaphragm stretches downward, allowing your lungs to expand to their full capacity. And when you breathe out, the diaphragm contracts upward, decreasing lung volume. When the diaphragm is fully engaged in the act of breathing, the lungs can expand to twice the volume they have when a breath is taken without full use of the diaphragm. Slow, rhythmic diaphragmatic breathing gives you a feeling of relaxed energy. And over time, this type of breathing provides an important long-term health benefit. It increases vital capacity, the maximum volume of air you can exhale from your lungs. Research shows that vital capacity is a strong predictor of cardiovascular health and longevity.
Unfortunately, most of us long ago stopped breathing the way we did when we were babies. Rather than diaphragmatic breathing, in which we breathe fully into our bellies, we tend to engage primarily in chest breathing, which relies on the muscles of the chest and shoulders to provide most of the power used to breathe. Compared to diaphragmatic breathing (sometimes called "belly breathing") chest breathing produces increased heart and breathing rates. It can make your neck and shoulder muscles tense, and activate your body’s stress response. These are reasons chest breathers seem more prone to experience anxiety and stress-related conditions like hypertension and headaches. The good news is that with a little training, you can learn—or relearn—a simple way of breathing that can transform your health and well-being for a lifetime.
Are you breathing right? Watch this video to find out.
Published on: October 12, 2009
Updated on: May 14, 2013