Take a deep breath. How does it feel? Relaxing or tense? Try it again. Take a deep breath and this time pause after the inhale. Are your shoulders up? Is your chest lifted? Where do you feel your breath, in the upper, or lower part of your torso?
We are often told to take a deep breath to relax. When we take a deep breath, for several reasons we tend to breathe “up”, creating more tension than relaxation.
Breathing is an automatic process. When we try to fool with it, we usually make it less efficient. Watch a child sleeping and you see a natural breath. Their whole torso expands and relaxes as they breathe. As we grow and become more aware of our body, and perhaps a bit (or a lot) more self conscious about our belly, we can subconsciously try to hide this area. Taking a deep belly breath is uncomfortable because the last thing we want to do is make our belly bigger! Instead we tend to breathe up, not deep into our belly, making a “deep breath” not a relaxing at all!
Place one hand at the bottom of your rib cage. Place the other on your collar bones. This is the length of your lungs. Now place your hands on the side of your rib cage and feel the width of your lungs. If you can, place your hand in the front and back of the rib cage and feel the depth of your lungs.
Now try taking a breath in these three dimensions. Let your rib cage and lungs expand – side to side, front and back, filling from the bottom to the top. Imagine expanding in all directions. (It may take a while to let go of old patterns of breathing.) This is our natural way to breath and is worth practicing if you find you tend to breath upward rather than deep. This natural breath triggers a relaxation response in your nervous system. Also, tension in your belly can cause tension in your back too. Learning to let go of tension in your belly is one part of minimizing back pain.
Now for the relaxing part. Exhale slowly and completely. Let your exhale be twice as long as your inhale.
Before moving on, pause and remember that your breath is an automatic process. Your body knows when to inhale and when to exhale. Notice this for a few breaths. Like you are watching the waves in the ocean. You don’t have to make the waves happen, simply watch them. Let the air move in all three directions on the inhale and then when your body is ready to exhale, slow it down and let it be complete before the next breath comes in. It may help to adjust and stand or sit in alignment comfortably, because that position allows the lungs to expand in all directions.
Close your eyes and ride the full waves of your breath. Notice what happens to any tension in your body. If it starts to feel more tense rather than relaxing, go back to watching your breath. This takes practice, so give it time.
What does this have to do with exercise?
- Knowing how to use your breath to relax allows you to turn moments of waiting in line or at a stop light into opportunities to relax and recharge your energy
- With the energy you save from your body not “overworking” in those moments, you might notice you have more energy to move in more moments of your day
- Breath awareness helps guide you during exercise to find the just right level for your body.
Keep Moving, BREATHE Well,
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These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician