Dr. Rosalba Courtney ND, DO, PhD
Stress and breathing are related. Stressed people can tend to breathe in ways that perpetuates the stress response. Working with the breath using mind/body breath practices can break some powerful vicious cycles connected to the psychology and physiology of anxiety and stress.
This is probably not new information. Most people have at some time tried to regulate their breathing to calm down and to manage anxiety, anger or other stress related symptoms. Many others use mindful attention of breathing as the core of their meditation practice, using it an anchor for focused attention and as a way to generate presence and pleasant body sensations. There are also abundant books, magazine articles, videos and classes on how to breathe to relax and manage stress related emotions and symptoms. These contain a wealth of information and have helped many people but the reality is that different sources can give conflicting advice and for some people this results in demotivating confusion.
The right breathing techniques, practiced diligently and consistently can be a hugely useful tool for self-care, mind-body training and self-regulation, with significant impacts on the brain and nervous system. The wrong breathing technique can be ineffective and even stressful and unpleasant.
Here are some guidelines and breathing techniques with tips to help your breathing practices become more effective.
Breathe in through your nose
Breathing in through your nose is healthier than doing so through your mouth. Nasal breathing is relaxing and it has a stronger influence on the brain than mouth breathing. The rhythms of breathing can change the rhythms of electrical activity in the brain but the brain entraining effects of breathing do not occur if you breathe in through your mouth. Nasal breathing improves memory and activates and organizes brain regions affected by stress. Techniques like alternate nostril breathing can be particularly relaxing.
Try the following easy relaxed style of alternate nostril breathing called Alternating Nose Stands:
Breath with your diaphragm (not just into your belly)
The dome shaped diaphragm is one of the most important muscles in our body, it separates our lungs from our abdominal cavity. Many people think that breathing in while protruding the belly equates with diaphragm breathing but this is not always the case, sometimes keeping a little tension in the abdominal wall, so that the breathing is felt at the back and sides of the lower ribs helps support the diaphragm so that it works better.
A well-functioning diaphragm is essential if you want to use breathing to calm down. A functional diaphragm is able to relax and contract appropriately, co-ordinate its contraction with relaxation of the abdominal wall while also maintaining the ability to raise and widen the lower rib cage.
The following 2 stage exercises by progressing from lying to sitting (with alternating soft and firm abdomen) can help to train diaphragm-abdomen-ribcage co-ordination that’s appropriate (and functional) for relaxed and active breathing.
Functional Diaphragm Retraining
Stay tuned for Part 2 which will look at the following questions and breathing techniques to address them.
• Why deep breathing can be a problem for some,
• What to do when breathing is unpleasant
• The perils of over controlling breathing
If your anxiety persists or gets worse, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and possible treatments.
If you would like to learn more about working for breathing for managing anxiety and increasing stress resilience and would like to learn more techniques and practice them in a small group setting consider attending Dr. Rosalba Courtney’s Breath, Mind Body program.
You can see details and book online here.