How we breathe affects many aspects of our health, from our mood to stress levels. Physiotherapist Hannah Morley explains why we should learn diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing.
The breath is our life force. We breathe without thinking, and yet our thinking has such a profound effect on our breathing, and subsequently on how we feel, move and interact with others.
In my work as a physiotherapist I come across people with many different injuries, conditions and difficulties. I understand how to use my experience in Pilates Rehabilitation and Yoga Therapy to help clients improve their function, movement and pain. Everyone I meet has one thing in common – becoming more aware of their breath would help them heal.
Imagine for a moment what your breathing pattern might be like before a test or an interview. Shallow and rapid? How does that make you feel? Tense, stressed, on edge? Now picture a sleeping baby. Or imagine yourself relaxing blissfully on a beach. In these situations the breathing pattern is slow, relaxed and deep.
When you are anxious or frightened or stressed, you will probably notice your shoulders and chest moving more as all the breathing happens at the top of our lungs in this scenario. Go back to the image of the baby sleeping, and you will notice it’s their tummy that moves. This is called diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, because it is the diaphragm that is moving more than the chest and shoulders.
Anyone can learn diaphragmatic breathing and apply it when feeling stressed, anxious or in pain – the technique can be used anywhere, anytime. If you have ever practised yoga, pilates, tai chi or meditation, you may already be familiar with this because it is key to all of these practices and can improve your performance and concentration in many areas of life.
It’s not only physical stresses that cause us to breathe in a shallow and rapid manner. Our thoughts can change the way we breathe too.
Learning diaphragmatic breathing (or belly breathing) will help you focus on your breathing and to notice your thoughts which make you feel more stressed and anxious. Once you are aware of these thoughts, it tends to be easier to deal with them and their cause. This awareness forms the basis of mindful meditation.
Here’s an exercise you can try:
Sit comfortably, close your eyes and place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Pay attention to your breathing for a few seconds – which hand moves more? Once you have noticed your breathing, focus on adopting a more relaxed, slower breathing pattern, where your belly moves more. Notice which way your belly moves when you breathe in and out, and focus on this breathing for a few minutes. Then open your eyes.
When you begin paying attention to your breathing, many positive changes start happening. However, if you are concerned, it is important you discuss this with your health professional. For more information about diaphragmatic breathing or any of my classes, please get in touch.
Hannah Morley is a Physiotherapist and Founder of
Be Mindful Physiotherapy, Health & Wellness, offering Physiotherapy, Yoga Therapy, Pilates For Rehabilitation, Mindful Meditation and Tai Chi For Health in Hereford, and Be Mindful Holidays in Skiathos, Greece.
Tel: 07510 321 131
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