Posted by: drbinder | October 22, 2011

Breathe Your Stress Away.

The word inspiration is cited in most medical text books as the alternative term for the inhalation of oxygen. How appropriate for the action which precedes conjectures of innovative thought to be analogous with the perpetual life sustaining reflex that we perform roughly 3000 times per day.

Proper breathing techniques are used in meditation, yoga, reiki healing, endurance sports, and biofeedback therapy. Among these and many other activities, the first step to success always starts with how you breathe. Controlled breathing also has an amazing power to instantaneously reduce stress levels, but understanding how this is accomplished calls for knowledge of the intimate relationship between the heart and the diaphragm.

From the diaphragm emerges the central tendon, which traverses up the inner chest cavity and attaches to the outer membrane of the heart. With deep belly breathing (using the diaphragm), the central tendon pulls on that membrane and mechanically stimulates the heart to decrease its frequency of contractions, kind of like a nice relaxing massage. This simple reduction in heart rate counteracts the effects of that pesky “fight or flight” stress response, which alters your heart rhythm and your state of mind. Think about a crying two year old who is calmed instantaneously by a mother telling them to “take a deep breath.”

Another benefit from deep belly breathing manifests inside the digestive system. Movement of the diaphragm also varies the pressure in the abdominal cavity, mechanically stimulating the organs which process and eliminate food. This means your stomach and intestine can break down, absorb and deliver nutrients from food more efficiently just by changing the way you breathe.

The method itself requires you to consciously activate your diaphragm, the muscle which actually controls breathing. Unfortunately, the fast paced, fast food and fast fix culture we live in does not allow the time to actually think about how we breathe. We have become a society of shallow chest breathers, and our focus has shifted away from the innate design to the external stimulant dependent world of caffeine, sugar and drugs. With the exception of you yogi marathoners out there, very few of us actually use this perfectly designed breathing mechanism.

Using the diaphragm is incredibly easy, and like anything else will eventually become more natural with time and practice. When you breathe in, push your belly outward, as if your abdomen is filling with air. This pulls the diaphragm downward and places the central tendon in tension, which in turn massages the heart. When you breathe out, pull your belly button in towards your spine. Now your diaphragm is moving up, changing the pressure in the abdominal cavity and stimulating the digestive process. Your diaphragm has just been activated!

Ultimately, you have just increased the capacity to absorb oxygen in your lungs and derive nutrients from your food. A high supply of nutrient and oxygen rich blood is now delivered to every cell and organ in your body. From balancing hormones to boosting the immune system, your bodies functional healing ability is enhanced. The influx also kick starts the brain, delivers a shot of calm thoughts and enhances a tranquil mindset through the release of endorphins, your “feel good” hormones.

Try it if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, or the next time someone cuts you off at 8 am on the 83 expressway during morning rush hour. After you instantaneously melt away that tension, you’ll want to practice breathing with your diaphragm as much as possible, for the unseen long term benefits are much greater. Just imagine what life would be like if you were inspired by every breath you took.

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