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Stop, Breathe

Have you taken a moment to notice your breathing today? Stop. Take a deep breath. Now let’s continue.

As babies, we are born expert breathers. We use our diaphragm muscle to pull open our lungs, using them to the fullest to fill our lungs with oxygen. Plenty of oxygen is transferred to our blood and into our muscles. Our heart is not overworked. For many adults, this skill is lost over time due to stress and poor posture. We stop belly breathing and start shallow chest breathing. This shallow chest breathing is much harder on our muscles- we use the diaphragm less and start using accessory muscles in the neck and shoulders. These muscles: scalenes, trapezius, and sternocleidomastoid, and pectoralis get overused and overworked. Breathing is not their primary job. This is causing neck and shoulder tension and headaches. By simply changing how you breathe and using your diaphragm again, you can relieve neck pain, headaches, and have more mobility in your shoulders.

As you use your diaphragm to belly breathe more, your circulatory system will become more efficient. Blood pressure and heart rate will lower, and long term strain on cardiac muscle will be reduced. Studies also show that memory and nervous system function also improve with regular deep breathing practice. Even if you don’t use the exercises below, just start breathing more and breathing deeper to see benefits.

Breathing for headaches or neck and shoulder tension:

Breathing for headaches or neck and shoulder tension

Exercise: Diaphragmatic Breathing

Lie on your back with feet flat, knees bent. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Slowly inhale, expanding your belly, letting your hand on your belly rise. The hand on your chest should not move. Exhale slowly, letting the hand on your belly fall. Abdominal muscles should tense to push out any remaining air. Perform 3 rounds of 10 breaths. This can also be done sitting or standing with good posture.

Now that you’ve learned to use your diaphragm for belly breathing, try to incorporate this technique throughout the day. Your diaphragm and abdomen will get stronger and your neck and shoulders will loosen. Try this breathing for a few minutes just before you fall asleep at night, during a stressful time of day, or while exercising.

We all suffer from time to time from stress and sometimes anxiety or even panic attacks. Thankfully, you can regain control of your mind and emotions with practice. Deep breathing and meditation will refocus your energy on the present moment and leave behind worry about the past or future. This is the basis of mindfulness. Centering all of your concentration on your breath for a few minutes will help you harness your inner power and find strength.

Breathing for anxiety and stress

Exercise: Box Breathing

Breathing for anxiety and stress

Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. If upright, sit up tall, pulling your shoulder blades back and down to open up your chest. Slowly inhale, using your belly for a count of 5, then hold your breath for a count of 5. Exhale for a count of 5, then hold your breath for a count of 5. Continue this pattern for 10 breaths. Focus on your counting and breathing.

Breathing to lower blood pressure and improve memory

Exercise: Ojjayi Pranayama (Ocean Breathing)

Breathing to lower blood pressure and improve memory

This is the basic breathing technique used in yoga or Taoist practices. It should be energizing and relaxing. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. You can also use this breathing during exercise. Slowly inhale through your nose, expanding your belly. Exhale through your mouth as if you are trying to fog up a mirror, using your throat and pushing with the abdominals. You should hear a sound like an ocean wave. Continue this pattern, taking slow, deep breaths.

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