The diaphragm is a muscle that separates the abdomen from the chest. The up and down movement of the diaphragm accounts for up to 75% of the air volume that can be expelled from the lungs. When relaxed, the diaphragm pushes upward, forcing air from the lungs. As the diaphragm contracts, it pushes down on the abdomen, causing it to swell outward drawing air into the lungs. Breathing from the diaphragm is a key skill in relaxation training. Ironically, healthy infants and young children "belly breathe" naturally. However, as we grow older, we tend to forget this effective and efficient breathing process. Strong levels of arousal (anxiety, fear, and other emotions) also have a way of altering this natural breathing pattern. As a result, our breathing becomes shallow, inefficient and fatiguing. Diaphragmatic breathing is relatively simple to learn, easy to practice, and yields significant benefits in controlling and reducing the effects of anxiety and stress to those who consistently practice it.
How To Breathe
Assume A Comfortable Position.
Breathing practice can be done lying down, sitting upright, or standing. Align your body so that the air passage is as open and straight as possible. Keep the chest muscles as well as those in the neck and shoulders relaxed. Adopt a passive point of view. Just watch and allow your breathing to happen.
Eliminate environmental factors that would be distracting, annoying, or cause discomfort. Close your eyes. Become still.
Inhale And Exhale.
Begin by emptying the lungs. Allow air to move out from the lungs through the mouth like a heavy sigh. Air is then inhaled through the nose, drawing it down into the lowest parts of the lungs. Air entering the lungs in this manner is warmed, filtered, and moisturized. Inhale slowly and evenly. When the lungs are full begin to exhale through the mouth without pausing. The goal is a slow, steady, effortless exchange of air - in through the nose and out through the mouth.
A breathing pattern used to create a relaxed state is inhale... 2...3...; exhale... 2... 3... 4... 5... 6...; (repeat). Allow a one second count between each unit. This practice can be increased to a four count for inhaling and an eight count exhaling. The ratio is always 1 : 2, inhaling to exhaling. Using this model, respiration quickly slows to 4 or 5 cycles per minute. Initially, you may experience an out-of-breath feeling. However, with practice, this feeling passes. You will also begin to notice that with practice your heart rate slows and synchronizes with your breathing.
Five to ten minutes of practice (25 to 50 breaths) three times a day in the early stages is sufficient. Vary the practice situations as described above. Concentrate on using the full volume of your lungs. Done correctly, the abdomen expands and contracts smoothly, the back rises and falls as you inhale and exhale.
When learning to deliberately slow their breathing, many people find they relax so deeply that they fall asleep. The goal is to be able to achieve deep relaxation without falling asleep. Remaining alert can be improved by correct posture, the time of day selected for practice and the focus of mental activity.
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