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The Power of Belly Breathing

Do you ever feel stressed or overwhelmed? Try this simple breathing exercise. It’s a super-easy way to regain balance.

Belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, stimulates the vagus nerve and activates the relaxation response of the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system.

In the hectic pace of modern-day life, many of us have forgotten how to breathe deeply. When we are feeling relaxed the breath naturally engages the diaphragm – a thin skeletal muscle that rests between the chest and the abdomen. When the diaphragm is used in breathing, the stomach rises and falls with ease – and as it does so, it helps to initiate feelings of ease and relaxation.

Many of us, particularly when we are feeling pressured in some way, breathe shallowly, exclusively into the chest. This stimulates the body’s ‘fight or flight’ mode and associated feelings of stress. Deepening the breath helps to bring us back into a restful state of being.

If you haven’t practiced belly breathing before, practice lying on your back. This will make it easier for you to sense which part of the body is rising and falling as you breathe.

How to Practice

1. Resting on your back, place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.

2. Take a few normal breaths to first observe which part of the body is rising and falling with each breath. Is most of the movement happening in the hand resting on your chest or the one on your belly?

3. Now, see if you can deepen your breath by softening the belly. Take one minute to explore this, seeing if you can let most of the movement be in your stomach rather than in your chest.

4. Let your breath come back to its natural depth and pace. Notice the state of your mind and body after having practiced this breathing technique.

If you are a beginner, practice this for one or two minutes at a time. Stop if you begin to feel dizzy. As you become more comfortable with this form of breathing, see if you can extend the length of your sessions by a few minutes.

To strengthen this practice, consider:

  • What did you notice about your usual breathing pattern, or about how it presented itself today?

  • How might you schedule this breathing into your schedule as a formal practice?

  • Where can you practice belly breathing informally during your day-to-day life (i.e. while on the bus, while walking, or before a big presentation)?

This technique is particularly helpful for:

  • Anxiety

  • Stress

  • Depression

  • Worrying and mental regurgitation

  • Improved sleep

  • Abdominal pain

  • Bloating

  • Constipation

  • Enhancing digestion and motility

  • Functional gut disorders

  • GERD

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