Diaphragmatic breathing, as discussed in module 4, involves breathing fully from your visceral cavity or from the bottom of your lungs. It is the inverse of the way you breathe when you experience Stress and Anxiety, which is usually rather shallow and high in your chest. This requires becoming more conscious of the act of breathing. Many people tend to use only their intercostal muscles – the muscles between the ribs – to regulate breathing. The average number of breaths taken is 12 to 14 per minute. Normally this number increases under physical exertion and decreases during sleep. The rate of breathing relates to the increased stress and anxiety levels; however, faster breathing tends to become a shallower hyperventilation. This style of breathing is inefficient. Perhaps you have noticed how when you are very stressed or anxious, even the act of speaking can make you out of breath. Clearly you are not getting enough oxygen. Thoracic breathing, which uses mainly the intercostal muscles and makes your chest heave, allows only for shallow breaths. It may also actually cause a certain amount of tension, as a requires that you draw your shoulders up with each breath.
Diaphragmatic breathing has a positive effect on decreasing overall levels of Stress and Anxiety. Regular diaphragmatic breathing practice has been shown to be associated with long-term health benefits, related to cardiovascular and immune system functioning. Practice diaphragmatic breathing by the steps below:
- Place one hand on your stomach right beneath your rib cage.
- Inhale slowly and breathe deeply through your nostrils into the lowest point down in your lungs you can reach. Your chest will move up a little, while your stomach area lifts up, forcing your hand up.
- As you have inhaled fully, count to three and then exhale fully through your nose. As you exhale, let go and imagine your entire body getting limber, relaxed, and resilient.
- Remind yourself that all you need to do is give and take, breathe in and breathe out. Repeat depth of breathing in this way for 10 breaths. Concentrate on keeping your breaths smooth, avoiding sudden and handling or exhaling.
If you start to feel light-headed while practicing diaphragmatic breathing, stop for 60 seconds and then start over. This practice may sound a bit technical and awkward, but soon you can stop using your hand on your chest and it will become quite easy. Diaphragmatic breathing for a few minutes is an efficient way to reduce levels of stress and anxiety, and it is always available whenever you need it.