Therapeutic Self-Care: Breathwork and Belly Breathing
Changing the way we breath can be hugely helpful in treating depression, anxiety, and completing the stress cycle.
It's normal not to pay attention to our breathing. It happens on its own, after all, and when I ask clients "how is your breathing right now?" it usually takes them a moment to clue in. Our autonomic nervous system responds to stress or danger by changing several aspects of our functioning (slows digestion, increases heart rate, etc.) including our breathing. When presented with a stressful situation, our breathing becomes shallow and fast, as if preparing us to run from the scene, even if it's a scene playing out solely in our minds.
Our brains and bodies are in constant two-way communication. This means that our stressful thoughts can stir up uncomfortable bodily sensations, and sensations themselves signal the brain as to what state we're in. Changing our breathing is about capitalizing on this two-way communication, shifting our mental and emotional experiencing simply by breathing differently.
Notice your breathing. What is its pace? What is its depth? Even as I type this, I notice I'm breathing slowly but shallowly. Now, on your next inhale, see if you can expand your belly, purposefully constricting the rise of your chest so that the breath goes deep. Take several inhales and exhales from the belly, allowing your diaphragm to drop as low as possible on the inhalation. Slow and deep belly breaths stimulates the vagus nerve, a neurological thread that begins in the neck and extends down through the center of the body and into the pelvic region. This nerve is stimulated when we sing, laugh, and engage socially with others. Stimulating the vagus nerve communicates to the brain that you are safe, you are resting, you are at ease.
Breathing slowly, deeply, and into the belly has the power to shift your present moment from stressful to manageable, frenetic to calm. Conveniently, it takes nearly no time and can be practiced throughout your day. Notice the next time you feel panicked or overwhelmed - close your eyes, and count your inhale for six seconds, breathing into your belly, letting out a slow, steady exhale.
Remember, when it comes to self-care, it's not about being better but rather, feeling better. Enjoy your breath this week, friends!