Article Summary from Today’s Health & Wellness Nov/Dec 2003
Breathing is the most basic activity of life—it affects every cell of the body. Deep breathing slows heart rate and can produce an immediate relaxation response.
Anatomy of Breathing
The primary muscle of breathing is the diaphragm. It stretches across the chest cavity just beneath the lungs. The abdominal muscles partner with the diaphragm by expanding the abdomen on inhalation, allowing the diaphragm to lower and flatten. The inhalation is completed with chest expanding, and even your sides and back inflating. On exhalation, the abdominal muscles contract, forcing the dome-shaped diaphragm up into the lungs, squeezing the air out.
The secondary muscles of breathing are the upper chest, shoulders, and front of the neck. These secondary muscles assist the expansion and contraction of the upper chest cavity.
Right and Wrong Breaths
Since the abdominal muscles are not constrained by ribs, they have more freedom of movement. The abdomen relaxes and expands as you inhale and contracts as you exhale. This diaphragmatic, or abdominal breathing is the “right” way to breathe. Or you can simply call it ‘belly breathing’. Chest breathing is just the opposite. It relies on the smaller, weaker (secondary muscles) which are hemmed in by the ribs, breastbone, and collarbone—on inhalation, the upper chest expands and the abs contract. On exhalation, the chest flattens and the abdomen relaxes. This shallow chest breathing is the “wrong” way to breathe—it utilizes less air, takes more effort, and breeds tension in the neck and shoulders. This is the way we breath when we’re startled or stressed.
An easy way to check your breathing is lying on your back with knees bent (You can support neck with rolled towel, etc.) Place one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen. Breathe the way you normally do. See which hand rises first when you breathe in. Your abdomen hand should rise first. If you’re chest breathing, exert conscious effort to make your abdomen rise on inhalation. Then squeeze your abs to make them contract on exhalation.
Focus on your breathing throughout the day—practice at red lights, work breaks, when you drink water, before you go to sleep, etc. Notice variants of healthy breathing, as inhaling sharply or gasping, or times when you’re holding your breath. Practice drawing a long, smooth inhalation, allow a pause, and then make a long, complete exhalation. Focus on slow, rhythmic breathing—count slowly to 6 on inhalation; then slowly release exhalation counting to 8. Breath deeply and smoothly and feel yourself relax.
|Source(s):||Reviewed by Linda Dunn, 2004|