Welcome to the latest installment of my series on how to identify and overcome stress. In my previous post I discussed a technique that you can use to identify any areas of tension in your body. Now that you know how to find where you are tense it is time to learn how to relax!
Notice how this post is titled “Breathe…Relax!” and not the other way around? (Relax..Breathe!) That is because breathing helps our bodies to relax. When it comes to breathing there is a “good” breathing and a “not so good” breathing (I was going to say “bad”, but at least you are still breathing!). There are two ways in which we breathe: diaphragmatic breathing and chest breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is the “good” breathing. When we do this kind of breathing we are in inhaling deep into our lungs, oxygen is then taken into our blood system and carbon dioxide exhaled. Whilst sleeping, it is diaphragmatic breathing that we are doing. It is deep, slow breathing which assists our bodies to relax.
Chest breathing is the “not so good” breathing. It is shallow and does not utilise the full capacity of our lungs. You may not even know that you breathe into your chest only! This type of breathing can lead to hyperventilation. Anxiety and panic attacks can result in chest breathing.
So, how do you know whether you are breathing from your diaphragm or your chest? (Take comfort all you chest breathers, you can learn how to become a diaphragmatic breather by doing the exercise I include later in this post.) To determine whether you breath from your chest or your diaphragm, do the following exercise:
- Lie on you back on the floor. Place one hand on your abdomen (just above your waist) and place your other hand on your chest.
- Take a few breaths and notice whether your chest rises and drops with your breathing. Or was it your abdomen that rose and dropped as you breathed?
If you noticed mainly your chest rising and falling in this exercise, then your are a “chest breather.” If it was your abdomen that rose and fell, then you are a “diaphragmatic breather.”
Diaphragmatic breathing allows our bodies to relax. It removes tension in our muscles. If you have determined, from the above exercise, that you are a “chest breather” you can become a “diaphragmatic breather” by doing this exercise. Also, for all of you who have found out that you breath from your diaphragm, there is no reason why you can not do this exercise too!
- Take a long, deep breath through your nostrils. Feel the air entering deep into your lungs. Feel your lungs expanding to their full capacity. Focus on the air entering your lungs. How does it feel as you inhale? Can you feel the air descending into your lungs? What sensations do you feel as you breath in. Become aware of these. Explore the sensations.
- Hold your breath for a couple of seconds.
- Exhale through your mouth. How does the air feel as it leaves your body? Can you feel your lungs? What sensations are there as you breath out?
- Repeat this exercise for about 5 minutes. Inhale through your nostrils and exhale through your mouth. Focus on your breath.
What you are doing is taking full advantage of your lungs and allowing a maximum flow of oxygen into your body. You will be amazed at how relaxed you will feel! It is also important to focus on your breath. Why? Because any thoughts that had that caused the tension can not be entertained whilst your mind is focused solely on your breath.
It may take a bit of practice until you are proficient at “diaphragmatic breathing”. Whenever you feel yourself tense up (such times are when we are susceptible to “chest breathing”), stop, breath and relax!