Yoga Part 3: Accessing the Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing
Written by Mary Martin PT, DPT
Welcome to part 3 of my yoga blog! This is the last post to the series which has addressed different types of yoga, exercise, and how I relate this to physical therapy. This last post addresses diaphragmatic breathing, which is helpful not only for yoga, but for stress relief and pain reduction.
As a physical therapist, I regularly teach my patients how to perform diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing. Most of us are very shallow breathers. You’ll notice when you’re feeling anxious, your shoulders go up and crowd your ears, you breathe shallowly , and generally tense up the muscles in your face and shoulders. This is the exact opposite of diaphragmatic breathing. What belly breathing allows us to do is fully expand the diaphragm (the muscle at the base of the lungs) and flare out the ribs to maximize how much air you take in and breathe out. Working on breathing with your diaphragm helps to clear your mind and relax your sympathetic nervous system, or your fight or flight response. You know how you feel keyed up when you’re really stressed out? That is your fight or flight response. You’ll notice a few things during that time, such as increased heart rate, sweating, quick eye movements...kind of like you want to run away. Diaphragmatic breathing helps to get rid of that response, especially when it is not needed. Often in the clinic I begin by just talking about this and relating it to posture first. You might notice as you’re reading this that you’re slouched over, your head is sticking forward, shoulders are slumped. Try to sit up with “princess posture” if you can. This means a straight back, tall and proud head and chest, with shoulders back. This will set you up for success with working on breathing because now you have given yourself room to let your lungs expand and your diaphragm to work optimally instead of being all crunched up. Now you are ready to start following the cues for diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing! I would like to encourage you to breathe out longer than you breathe air in, and once you get the hang of the cueing, you might really enjoy closing your eyes.
Diaphragmatic breathing: Either sitting or laying down, place one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Breathe all your air OUT. When you Inhale, allow the belly to expand and keep your chest quiet, shoulders away from your ears.. Take in as much air as possible. Breathe out slower than you breathe in. Repeat! Close your eyes and use essential oils or soft music to add to the relaxation. This can be done anywhere!
Thank you for following my series on yoga as a way to access the many health benefits of exercise and stress reduction. Please feel free to reach out to me for further discussion or evaluation if you are interested in learning more, or using yoga in your rehabilitation and/or health and wellness program.