Breathing is our first response to our first trauma.
Imagine going from a warm, dark environment where sound is muted and movement buffered by amniotic fluid to this world. The bright lights of a delivery room must be shocking to the newborn, the sterile air, frigid. Oxygen is no longer delivered via a nice placental tube.
Frequently when we are stressed, our breathing changes. We breathe out of the top portion of our lungs creating a number of problems. When we don’t exhale properly, carbon dioxide builds up in our bodies and can lead to mental fogginess, fatigue and a decrease in tissue function. During stress our bodies burn glycogen instead of fat. Chronic stress leads to adrenal imbalances with symptoms like overwhelming fatigue, difficulties coping with stress, sleep disturbances, lightheadedness, fuzzy thinking, low libido, marked irritability, and other symptoms.
On the other hand when we breathe deeply, our bodies relax leading to a host of benefits. Our brain sends out little messengers called “neurotransmitters,” and they tell our organs that all is well. Our lymphatic system is stimulated helping us fight infections and diseases. Practicing deep breathing on a regular basis can help with depression, anxiety, muscle tension, menopause symptoms, weight loss, GI issues and insulin sensitivity.
The diaphragm is a handy but under-rated muscle just below the lungs. By taking a few moments every day to practice deep breathing we can strengthen it. When you inhale, the diaphragm should push out or down and your belly look full and round like a pregnant lady. When you use the muscle to exhale properly, the diaphragm pushes up and all the air is pushed out of the bottom of the lungs.
Here is a simple exercise Barbi White, L.C.S.W., shared with me. Lie down on the floor and get as comfortable as possible. Imagine you are being completely held up by the floor. Place your hand on your stomach to cue your body to breathe from the diaphragm. Say, hi diaphragm. Just kidding. Begin with a thorough exhale by pushing up your diaphragm to get as much air out of your lungs as possible. Imagine the air filling your lungs all the way to the bottom as you inhale slowly through your nose counting to four. Hold for a second. Exhale slowly through your mouth for four counts. Do this five to ten times. As you inhale, receive the awareness that you are being filled with life, light and love. As you exhale, let go your stresses or problems.
Your heart rate and thinking have been calmed. Your mind has been fed oxygen. Your spirit has been awakened to the present.