Belly Breathing

Many of us get into the habit of breathing only through our chest, which can cause over-breathing and make us feel breathless or anxious. Chest breathing keeps our body in a sympathetic state which is essentially the “fight or flight” side of our autonomic nervous system. The goal is to keep our body in a parasympathetic state, which is the opposite of the sympathetic. It’s also referred to as the “rest and digest” system, and slows the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, stimulating the digestive process, and makes us feel calm and relaxed, which is our natural state.

Generally, it takes approximately two weeks to retrain the body to breathe normally in the belly. Practicing this breath every morning will signal the body to start the day breathing here. Then, throughout the day check in with your body several times and remind yourself to continue to breathe into the belly. After time, your body will revert back to this natural breathing and this will be your normal state. You will notice that you will be calmer and more relaxed just due to changing your breath.

Now anytime that you are anxious, upset, or scared, the breath may go back to the old stressed state. Just drop your shoulders down away from the ears, and take a second to check in with your breath, noticing where you are breathing. If you are breathing in the chest rather than the belly, bring the breath back into the belly. This can calm any of these emotions, giving you clarity and relaxation. If you will notice yourself handling stressful situations in a more relaxed and balanced way.

Benefits:

  • Keeps your body in a parasympathetic state-- slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and stimulates the digestive process
  • Keeps our body from going into a “fight or flight” state
  • Reduces stress

When to practice:

  • Consciously in the morning
  • Throughout the day check to see where your breathing is at, and guide it back down into the belly
  • When you feel stressed, anxious or scared

When to avoid:

The goal is to never avoid this breath :)

How to perform:  

1. Sit in a seated position, either on a pillow, meditation cushion (zafu), or in a chair.  Try to keep the knees lower than the hips to allow the spine to get long and to prevent the tightness of the organs in the midsection.

2. Place the palm of one hand on the belly button and concentrate on bringing the breath down into this area.  As you inhale, your belly should fill with breath, moving the hand away from the body.  Exhaling will cause the belly button to come closer to the spine, releasing the breath out of the body.  

Don’t worry, in the beginning, it may feel backwards.  So even if you have to physically push the belly out when you breathe in, and push it back when you breathe out, that’s okay.  This will signal the body that this is the place to breathe and will begin remembering to breathe properly.  Continue this process until the body does it on its own.