Are you breathing correctly?


Diaphragm descends

In emotional stress, activation of the stress response leads to rapid breathing. The upper part of the chest is mainly used for this type of breathing. With no physical outlet for our stress response, such breathing (called hyperventilation) flushes too much carbon dioxide out of the lungs, making the blood and tissues more alkaline.

In some situations breathing can become rapid and very shallow from the chest. Insufficient air is taken in and out of the lungs to flush out the accumulating carbon dioxide so it builds up in the blood, making it more acidic. These patterns of breathing which make the blood too acid or too alkaline can result in abnormal body functions.

Our breathing pattern can reveal our emotions. Anxious people breathe rapidly and talk as they breathe in (inhale). On the other hand, depressed people sigh frequently and talk as they breathe out (exhale). If people remain in state of high sympathetic arousal and anxiety for a long period, their breathing pattern can alter at rest and during moderate activity. Over time their breathing shifts more from diaphragmatic movement to chest movement.

Hand on chest should be almost stationary (should not rise or fall) as you breathe in and out

Hand on abdomen should move outward as you breathe in and inward as you breathe out

So, are you breathing correctly? Try this simple test. Lie on your back in a comfortable position, support you head on a pillow and relax. Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest (Figure 20, see page 131). As you inhale and exhale note the movement of your abdomen and chest. If you are breathing correctly the hand on your abdomen should rise as you breathe. So, if the hand on your abdomen is stationary then you are breathing incorrectly.

Procedure for correcting your breathing and using deep breathing for relaxation

Lie on the floor on your back. Support your head on a pillow. Bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. Breathe slowly through your nose. Keep your mouth closed. Take slow gentle deep breaths. As you inhale push your abdomen out against your hand – feel your abdomen expand and your hand rise. Hold for two seconds* and then exhale slowly through your nose. Feel your stomach deflate and your hand fall. Repeat four times. * *

When you have mastered this exercise, follow the same procedure in the sitting and standing position. Eventually, you can do the exercise without positioning your hands on your chest and abdomen. Concentrating on your abdominal movements in this way will slowly help to correct faulty breathing patterns. The procedure can be used as a relaxation technique in its own right, when you feel tense and anxious. It is a useful quick method that can be applied almost anywhere -sitting at your desk, in a stationary car, on a train or bus.

Correct breathing and the deep breathing technique are used in most other forms of relaxation such as the two we describe below. So before attempting these, practise the breathing exercise.

* Sufferers from respiratory complaints including asthma and bronchitis may find breath-holding uncomfortable or difficult. These sufferers should avoid long breath-holding in this exercise and others described later.

* For everyone: Stop the breathing exercise if you feel light-headed at any time during the procedure and resume your usual pattern of breathing until you feel able to continue.

Progressive and deep muscular relaxation and meditation are recognized, well-tried techniques which we recommend and use in our workshops, training and counselling programmes. When we teach these procedures we use biofeedback devices, such as biodots, to enable the person to monitor their level of relaxation. So before we take you through the progressive and deep muscular relaxation techniques we will describe biofeedback and the use of biodots.

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