Let’s have an experience together!
Make sure you’re in a safe place and not moving (no reading and driving 🤨).
Take a deep inhale…
… and hold it.
Are you still holding it?
I’m still holding my breath.
Hold a little longer.
Now let it out.
Notice how your heart rate is elevated. You feel a little tired but energized at the same time. This experience kicked your sympathetic nervous system into action. (Need to relax? Keep reading.)
This fun little exercise was to illustrate the importance of our breath. Until this moment how many times did you think about your breath this morning, besides your morning breath ?
For most of us it’s close to never, but how you breathe and knowing how to breathe is important for our overall well-being. You can breathe in a way to elevate your heart rate and increase your adrenaline, and you can breathe in a way to decrease your heart rate and help you relax.
In this post and the video below I go over the physiology of breathing and why it’s important to breathe diaphragmatically. Below is an explanation on how breathing stimulates different responses in our bodies, and further down are 12 reasons why diaphragmatic breathing is important. Each of the items listed can be controlled/changed for the better when we breathe the way we were meant to breathe.
Breathing is as primitive as it gets. Imagine it’s thousands of years ago. You (yes you) are living in the plains of Africa. Lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos, and buffalo roam the lands around you.
Every time you breathe in …
Your (thorasic) diaphragm expands downward and your belly moves outward.
Your eyes scan the horizon and your brain goes “Am I safe? Do I need to run to safety?”
Your heart rate starts to elevate as you prepare for the unknown.
In that moment if…
You breathe in and you see a lion and your brain goes “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! I’m not safe!!! RUUUUNNNNNNNNNN!”
When you breath out …
Your brain diverts resources away from
In that moment if instead, when you breathe in…
You scan the horizon and you see YOUR tribe, your friends, your family (and no lion). Your brain sighs “ahhhhh, life is good.”
You breathe out and…
Your brain can send
Did you notice 👆? Your heart rate is different between inhale and exhale.
That difference is called heart rate variability. The difference between the two heart rates is now being seen as a measure of wellness. The variation helps tell our brain if we’re stressed (going to be eaten by a lion) or if we’re safe (out of harm’s way).
Our ability to go from stressed to relaxed is a sign of resiliency. The sooner we can bring our resting heart rate back down the sooner our brain can redevote the resources to non-survival systems.
Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) – Fight, flight, or freeze response
Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) – Rest, digest, create, and procreate response
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) – Difference between your heart rate during inhalation vs exhilation
Breathing is important. I get that, but why a whole song, dance, story, and YouTube video!?
Well, that’s because so many of us (myself included) have developed sub-par breathing habits over time and we’re not even aware of it.
There are a variety of flawed breathing habits (reverse breathing, frozen breath, collapsed breathing) many of them stem from modern societal pressures (high waisted pants, dance class, the military, showing off our abs). If we breathe contradictory to our innate physiology we signal to our brain we’re in trouble, even when we’re not.
When we send constant signals to our brain we’re not safe (by breathing contradictory to normal), we
Can you see how that can be an issue?
Today, running from an actual lion is rare. In reality, It’s the lion’s share of activities, work, and stress we put on ourselves that we’re trying to escape. Two things can happen:
Even things we do for pleasure (like binge-watching the latest season of Ted Lasso) can leave us slumped over on our couch. This forces us to breathe into our chest, and signals to our brain we’re in danger. Even though we’ve been laughing hysterically for 3 hours straight.
No matter where your stress comes from – a lion lurking on you or you reverse breathing – the compounding stress will deplete your resources and put you at higher risk for autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure, strokes, diabetes, and so much more.
As promissed, breathing properly can help bring you back to wellness. There are many many many reasons why diaphragmatic breathing is important, and there are many conditions it can help, but here are my top 12.
Even Ferris Bueller was stressed on his Day Off. Remember that scene where he leaps fences and bushes through his neighborhood to get home before his parents?
He may have been cool, calm, and collected, but he had his heart rate elevated and lots of adrenaline pumping through his veins.
Yes, I know it was a movie, but in real life how do you get yourself to feel less stressed when you’re being pushed to the limit?
Deep diaphragmatic breaths.
When you’re stressed your heart rate becomes elevated. As you read above the best way to reduce some of this elevated heart pumping is to breathe deep.
It won’t eliminate the amount of work you need to get done, or the pressure to perform. Assuming your stress isn’t from potentially becoming someone/something’s food, deep breathing will help your body send some of those resources to your brain instead of your legs.
Does a person have “high blood pressure” if no one is there to witness it? 🤔
(Let’s see if I get a call from my parents. My parents are subscribed, but lets see if they indeed read my blog 🧐)
Calling my mom out – she has high blood pressure (she blames me 🙄). She checks her blood pressure regularly – especially when she feels light headed. At home she’ll get a range from normal to abnormal. When she’s not feeling well her BP is high, but if she checks it randomly it’s normal. But whenever she walks into a doctors office no matter how she feels her blood pressure is always HIGH.
It’s well known – if you’re under pressure/stress to have your blood pressure read as “normal” it will be “high.” Why!? BECAUSE YOU’RE UNDER STRESS.
Side note: if you want to have an advantage doing your next BP reading
1. Arm below your heart. (If you can)
2. Take deep diaphragmatic breaths.
It’s already been said… it’s not safe to poop if you’re going to be eaten.
While I was going to yoga therapist school, I had a patient/client with ulcerative colitis. I did loads of research on what practices and evidence there was to support yoga and relaxation techniques to ease symptoms. There was enough evidence to show the movement of the diaphragm helped intestine motility. (AKA moving the poop through the digestive tract).
So not only does diaphragmatic breathing signal to both the brain and the body you’re safe, it’s safe to eat, and safe to eliminate… it also increasing the intensis ability to move the consumed nutrients through the digestive tract with the cilia.
Even as a yoga therapist at first sight the relationship between headaches and deep breathing seems far fetched, but in reality how you breath as a whole lot of affect on how your head feels.
Until a few years ago I didn’t think I had ever had “anxiety.” I thought of it only as a clinically diagnosed condition, but in reality everyone gets anxious about something at some point in time. It may not be debilitating, and it may be life stopping. No matter how it affects you, anxiety is a physiological response to stress.
You may be anxious about the first day of school, first day of a new job, a tough conversation, a first date, a test, tryouts, or paying your bills, and the list goes on. Anxiety causes your heart rate to go up and reduces your ability to think. Deep breaths can help your brain and body relax (a little) and use that higher level thinking to your advantage.
Migraines can be debilitating. During a migraine light and sound are amplified, and the ability to think is nearly impossible. If you’ve ever had a migraine you know all you want to do is to crawl into a dark corner with noise canceling headphones, an air conditioner, an eye cover, and get some deep sleep.
In the moment of a migraine your head hurts,. Diaphragmatic breathing can help to reduce the level of perceived pain during a migraine episode.
As far as preventing migraines, regular deep breathing (mindful breathing practices) can help reduce the overall level of stress, lessening the amount of intensity, frequency, and pain from migraines.
Similar to how chest breathing can contribute to head aches, chest breathing works the muscles in the neck and can cause neck pain. In turn – if you breathe deep into the belly it decreases the amount the neck muscles are used and lessens neck pain.
Generally anger comes from a defensive reaction. When you’re stressed out you’re constantly running defense. When we breathe deep we send that signal to our brain we’re safe and secure and we’re not in trouble. This helps to improve higher level thinking… allowing us to be curious and inquisive…. Instead of reacting in anger we have the ability to pause and think about where the other person is coming from, how we ended up in that situation, and how we can approach the situation.
Have you ever played a fast paced game that required you to react to moving objects on a screen? Maybe you had to jump over something, shoot something, or eat something, but think of 2 different situations:
In that moment where you yelled you stopped breathing deep. You tightened your core to yell. You got flustered and kept getting fixed on the thing you missed. In situation 1 you were more relaxed breathing deep and staying in the moment.
Pro Tip: If you sat down for that test and you couldn’t remember a single thing you studied? Take a few deep breaths. It will allow your brain to move the resources from your legs (trying to run you out the door) to the frontal lobes of your brain where you left all the answers.
“Just relax and you’ll get pregnant” If you’ve ever been in that situation you just want to throw one finger up on each hand and walk off. Having been in that situation, I hate to say it, but there’s a little… super tiny… bit of truth to it 😬.
Saying “relax” is not helpful AT ALL. DONT EVERY SAY THAT TO SOMEONE TRYING TO GET PREGNANT! EVER!
There are some benefits to deep diaphragmatic breaths when you’re in the crux of infertility.
Need some space to breathe on the infertility rollercoaster? Check out the offerings over at The Orchid Experience to EMPOWER you on your infertility journey.
WHY AM I YELLING SO MUCH IN THIS POST!? 🤣
Let’s all take a Deep Breath. 😮💨
Pain comes in many forms, but physical pain generally starts as a signal from the body to the brain something is harmed or being harmed. Like running from a lion, this starts a chain reaction to try to get the body to a place where it is safe.
Deep breaths signal to the brain you have some control over the situation. Maybe you’re getting help, maybe the pain is blown out of proportion (think of a young kid panicking after the sight of a tiny splotch of red after a little scrape), or maybe the pain is something you have lived with for a while, no matter the source of pain deep breathing can help you lessen the intensity.
Whether your heart rate is naturally high, or you just want to get back to your resting heart rate quicker, taking a few minutes to breathe diaphragmatically will help to lower it and reduce your stress at the same time. Win-win!
You are not meant to breathe diaphragmatically every moment of every day. If you never HAVE to run from anything (a lion or your boss) you’ll never condition your muscles, and your heart, for the moments when you have to run for your life.
But, in the moments when you’re relaxed, breathing properly can ensure both your brain and your body move into a parasympathetic (relax and digest) state. This should be more often than not, assuming you’re not the main character in a horror movie.
When your body can find time to relax in between those moments of stress, it allows the body and the brain time to replenish their resources and give us the energy to do more of the things we love. Long story short: better health and wellness.
Still, feeling stressed from the experience at the beginning of the post? Let’s breathe the way we were meant to breathe (when we’re not stressed). It sounds simple, but for some of us 🙋♀️ (type A personalities) it can be easier said than done, so check out my tips below. Here’s how you do it:
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Now that you know how your breath can shape your life, you can shape your breath the next time you need to reduce pain or stress.
Or if you need a little adrenaline rush (and don’t have a lion nearby), try holding your breath.
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