Want to relax? Tap the calming power of your breath

By Kay Wagner LMP | Apr 07, 2010

Four things happen to your breathing when you're stressed. Your breathing becomes faster, noisier, shallower and irregular. To use your breath as a way to relax, begin by slowing your breathing. Now make your breathing deeper and quieter. Then make your breath more rhythmic.

The most effective way to breathe is to use your diaphragm. The diaphragm is a wide strong muscle just below your lungs. When you inhale, it should be activated to pull the lungs down, filling the lower lungs, not just your upper lungs. To do this, let your tummy release out on your inhale.

Many of us exhale by pushing the chest down. This causes the neck muscles to contract, chest to cave slightly and back to round. Instead, activate the diaphragm by sucking your navel upwards toward your spine to push the breath out from your lower lungs.

Advantages? Releases toxins from lower lobes of lungs, strengthens the diaphragm, massages the internal organs and allows the neck and shoulders to stay relaxed.

You can experience the benefits now. Lie down with a book on your tummy. Focus on the book rising up as you inhale through your nose. Now exhale drawing the book toward your spine.

Keep your neck, throat and shoulders relaxed. When you inhale your stomach goes up. When you breathe out your tummy goes down. Repeat for 10-30 breathing cycles.

If your job is mentally busy or stressful you are probably worn out at the end of the day. One reason is that the brain uses the most oxygen of any organ in your body. When we are concentrating, reading, or trouble shooting, the brain is 'working out' and sucking up the oxygen. Then the heart grabs the leftovers, taking the most oxygen of any muscle.

What is left feeds the rest of your body. With shallow breathing everything gets depleted. We take 20,000 breaths every day. Through expansive, diaphragmatic breathing we can nourish and relax our brain, heart and in turn our entire body.

Inhaling through the nose releases nitric oxide (not nitrous oxide), that allows the vessels to carry more oxygen and helps increase energy. But nitric oxide only lasts a few seconds.

So keep up the deep nostril breathing for better health and relaxation!

Insomnia? Practice this counting breath exercise for peaceful sleep. Use deep belly breathing to inhale to a count of six. Hold for four counts. Exhale to a count of eight.

Any time you notice yourself getting upset, try four cycles of the counting breath. It is very helpful for addictions. Try it when you crave the cigarette, chocolate bar, etc. Repeat when the craving arises again.

Train yourself to use deep breathing by taking three deep, diaphragmatic breaths every time you get put on hold, stop for a light or have to wait in line, etc. Prepare yourself for a confrontation, a test or other stressful encounter by nourishing your system with oxygen to help you face the challenge calmly.

Guided meditation and breathing CDs are one of the most effective ways to learn relaxation breathing techniques. With regular practice these breathing tools become more automatic. You will be able to think more clearly, stay focused and calm yourself even in difficult times.

Kay Wagner LMP, is a NASM certified personal trainer, yoga and Pilates instructor. Her massage/fitness studio is located at 828 2nd St, ste H in Old Town Mukilteo. For more information, call (425) 353-4545,email kay@kaywagnerwellness.com or visit www.kaywagnerwellness.com


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