Abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing is the single most effective strategy for stress reduction. While a person’s normal breathing rate is 8-12 breaths per minute, when stressed it can rise to 20-30 breaths per minute and becomes shallower. Although it may seem that there is more breathing going on, there is not much oxygen getting in, and the breathing is not as effective as it should be.
Abdominal breathing means breathing fully from your abdomen or from the bottom of your lungs like a baby. The upward and downward movement of the diaphragm, combined with the outward and inward movement of the belly, ribcage, and lower back, helps to detoxify the inner organs, promote blood flow and peristalsis, and pump the lymph more efficiently through our lymphatic system.
Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. When you take a deep breath in, the hand on the abdomen should rise higher than the one on the chest. This ensures that the diaphragm is pulling air into the bases of the lungs.
After exhaling through the mouth, take a slow deep breath in through your nose imagining that you are sucking in all the air in the room and hold it for a count of 7 (or as long as you are able, not exceeding 7).
Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. As all the air is released with relaxation, gently contract
your abdominal muscles to completely evacuate the remaining air from the lungs. It is important to remember that we deepen respirations not by inhaling more air but through completely exhaling it.
Repeat the cycle four more times for a total of 5 deep breaths and try to breathe at a rate of one breath every 10 seconds (or 6 breaths per minute). At this rate our heart rate variability increases which has a positive effect on cardiac health.
Once you feel comfortable with the above technique, you may want to incorporate words that can enhance the exercise. Examples would be to say the word, relaxation (with inhalation) and stress or anger (with exhalation). The idea is to bring in the feeling/emotion you want with inhalation and release those you don’t want with exhalation.
Abdominal breathing is just one of many breathing exercises but perhaps one of the most important one to learn. For optimum relaxation this exercise should be practiced twice a day. The more it is practiced, the more natural it will become improving the body’s internal rhythm.
Donna Farhi, The Breathing Book: Good Health and Vitality Through Essential Breath Work (New York: Owl Books).
Robert, Ph.D. Fried, The Breath Connection : How to Reduce Psychosomatic and Stress Related Disorders With Easy-To-Do Breathing Exercises by Hardcover, 317 pages, ISBN: 0306434334
Gay Hendricks Conscious Breathing: Breathwork for Health, Stress Release, and Personal Mastery by, Paperback, 189 pages, ISBN: 0553374435
Swami Ajaya and Rudolph Ballantine; Science of Breath