I am a counselor, teacher, trainer and writer. I have lived and worked in the US, South Korea, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. I currently provide mindfulness training and counseling online and enjoy following the path less traveled. I hope we can learn and work together.
|EDUCATION: MA Counseling Psychology from Lewis and Clark College Graduate School of Education and Counseling||BLOG: None provided|
|CERTIFICATIONS: NCC, CADC-I||CURRICULUM VITAE: Must be logged in to view|
Allen Hall – May 2006
- Take the Time to Breathe -
Deep Breathing Instructions and Facts
The benefits of practicing deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, are rooted in our basic biology and brain chemistry. There are three primary chemicals found in our brain that are responsible for regulating the body’s response to everyday events, activities, and stressors. These three chemicals are neuroepinephrine, associated with activity, dopamine, associated with the experience of pleasure, and serotonin, which helps to regulate sleep cycles and also calms and relaxes us. Deep breathing has a direct effect on the production of serotonin as well as many other systemic benefits.
As we breathe deeply many things are happening within our body. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped structure that not only assists in breathing, but also acts as a natural partition between our heart and lungs on the one hand, and all of the other internal organs on the other. The top of the diaphragm, located about one and one-half inches up from the bottom of the sternum, actually supports the heart, while the bottom of the diaphragm is attached all the way around our lower ribs and connects also to our lower lumbar vertebrae. When we breathe, the surface of our diaphragm generally moves downward as we inhale and upward as we exhale. When we breathe fully and deeply, the diaphragm moves farther down into the abdomen and our lungs are able to expand more completely into the chest cavity. This means that more oxygen is taken in and more carbon dioxide is released with each breath. Deep breathing takes advantage of the fact that the lungs are larger toward the bottom than the top.
As we practice deep breathing our lungs are expanding as we fill them and contracting as we exhale and empty them. Our diaphragm is moving up and down to assist in the process, and our stomach is also moving around to accommodate these actions. Our ribcage is moving up and down to help contain all of this activity and our intercostal muscles on the outside of our ribcage are contracting and releasing to allow our ribcage to “float”. As this happens there are many things happening that benefit our body systemically.
Deep breathing can have a powerful influence on our health. To understand how this is possible, we need to remember that the diaphragm is attached all around the lower ribcage and has strands going down to the lumbar vertebrae. When our breathing is full and deep, the diaphragm moves through its entire range of motion, downward to massage the liver, stomach, and other organs and tissues below it, and upward to massage the heart. When our breathing is full and deep, the belly, lower ribcage, and lower back all expand on inhalation, thus drawing the diaphragm down deeper into the abdomen, and retract on exhalation, allowing the diaphragm to move upward toward the heart. In deep breathing, the downward and upward movements of the diaphragm, combined with the outward and inward movements of the belly, ribcage, and lower back, help to massage and detoxify our inner organs, promote blood flow and peristalsis (digestive action), and pump the lymph more efficiently through our lymphatic system. The lymphatic system, which is an important part of our immune system, has no pump other than muscular movements, including the movements of breathing. All this movement of organs, muscles, and skeletal structure not only massages the organs, detoxifying them, but also stimulates the vagus nerve, one of the largest nerves in our body. This nerve is very large and connects our brain with our internal organs and muscles. This is the “heart” of the mind-body connection.
Many of us breathe too fast, which has many bad effects on our physical and emotional health. When our breathing is deep, involving in an appropriate way not only the respiratory muscles of the chest but also the belly, lower ribcage, and lower back, our breathing slows down. This slower, deeper breathing, combined with the rhythmical pumping of our diaphragm, abdomen, and belly, helps turn on our parasympathetic nervous system and our "relaxation response." This response introduces a rush of serotonin into the brain within one or two minutes, producing a noticeable difference in our heart rate and muscle tension as well as our mental and emotional perception of the present moment. In short, we feel calmer and less anxious because of the increase in serotonin and oxygen that is present in our brain and our bloodstream. Such breathing helps to activate and harmonize our nervous system and reduce detrimental negative stress in our lives and bodies. This has a positive impact on our overall health.
Here are a few simple tips to help begin to implement an effective practice of deep breathing. It is important not to rush. We need to slow our breathing down and take full advantage of the capacity of our lungs and chest cavity. There are many ways to do this. Some people use counting in order to maintain awareness of consistency between breaths as well as inhalations and exhalations. As you begin to inhale, count aloud or silently, and do the same as you exhale. Other people repeat a phrase as they inhale and exhale. One example would be... “I am breathing in fully” (deeply, positivity, good energy, etc. on the inhalation) and “I am breathing out fully (deeply, negativity, bad energy, etc. on the exhalation). A nice full, deep breath will have a count of five or six seconds on the inhalation and the exhalation. Try to start with ten of these and move on to twenty or more. Some people use visualization to imagine a comfortable or beautiful place that helps to put their mind at ease and slow down one’s thoughts by concentrating on a place that brings peace to the mind and body. This allows one to focus on the breath and slow it down, maintaining focus and concentration on the breath. These are the essential components of mindfulness meditation.
Maintaining straight and open posture will allow freedom of movement for the inercostal muscles and ribcage as well as the lungs, diaphragm, stomach and other internal organs. This results in effective stimulation of the vagus nerve, activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, and release of serotonin, the neurochemical responsible for relaxation. One easy way to achieve this is to cross our hands behind our backs or heads as we breathe. This will allow for greater movement of our ribcage, internal organs, and muscles. Remember to take slow, even, and full deep breaths on the inhalation and to exhale all the way out, completely, before taking the next breath. You will see immediate positive results in physical, mental, and emotional functioning when you relax and take the time to breathe.