At the end of each blog post, in my Yield2Yin section, I share a mantra for you to repeat. This is an “I am” mantra—something like “I am calmness” or “I am serenity.” Then I always suggest saying (or thinking) the mantra alongside diaphragmatic breathing. Why is this type of breath so important that it has become a fundamental aspect of my message? Let’s dive in!
What Is Diaphragmatic Breathing?
Diaphragmatic breathing (AKA: abdominal breathing, belly breathing, or pace breathing) is when you utilize your diaphragm to take a deep, slow breath. Your belly will move up and down with the breath instead of the chest.
The diaphragm is the major muscle of respiration that is located below the lungs. This dome-shaped muscle plays a crucial part in your breathing:
- Each time you inhale and take in oxygen, your diaphragm contracts and flattens, which creates more room in your chest cavity, so your lungs can expand = YANG
- Each time you exhale and let out carbon dioxide, the opposite happens: your diaphragm relaxes and moves upward in your chest cavity. The space in your chest cavity gets smaller and air is forced out of your lungs and windpipe, and then out of your nose or mouth = YIN
Belly breathing is something that we were able to do automatically from the moment we were born. It is not until later, as we get older and life stressors continue to pile up without being addressed, that we start taking shorter and more rapid breaths, which no longer allow for complete oxygen exchange. Shallow and restricted breathing activates the sympathetic nervous system = fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.
Why Is Diaphragmatic Breathing So Important?
Abdominal breathing is key because it:
- Stimulates the vagus nerve and activates the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system = rest & digest
- Allows for a complete oxygen exchange—equal amounts of oxygen with each inhale and carbon dioxide with each exhale
- Slows down our heart rate and lowers, or at least stabilizes, our blood pressure, thus relieving hypertension
- Helps us lead a calmer and healthier existence regardless of our external stressors
Deep Breaths vs. Shortness of Breath/Hyperventilation
When we feel unsafe, and feel anxious or panicky, we often breathe incorrectly with rapid and shallow breaths. This can lead to shortness of breath or even hyperventilation. When you hyperventilate, you feel as though you cannot breathe, yet you are actually “over-breathing”–taking in more oxygen with each inbreath than you are exhaling carbon dioxide with each outbreath.
The fastest and most effective way to calm down is to do the opposite: exhale for 1 or 2 extra counts compared to your inhale:
- Take a 4 count breath in through the nose
- Breathe out a 5- or 6-count breath through the nose or mouth
Doing inversions is another helpful technique to treat hyperventilation
Inversion yoga poses expand the lungs for improved breathing. These asanas will help you tap into your parasympathetic nervous system, so you can start calming down. By having your hips higher than your heart and your heart higher than your head, you reverse the normal pull of gravity on your body. This helps return blood to the heart, which is then sent to the lungs for reoxygenation.
Here are some examples of inversion yoga poses:
- Legs up the wall with your hips on a block or bolster
- Headstand or neck stand
- Standing forward fold
- Downward facing dog
Making Your Breath Your Ally
Our breath can be our #1 ally, but only if we know how to use it to our benefit.
If you are interested in learning how to use your breath to help you calm down when needed, I suggest you start with practicing diaphragmatic breathing once a day for five minutes. If that is too long, just take eleven breaths – some consider 11 a highly spiritual number (if you are into or open to numerology).
Eventually, shoot for practicing slowing down your breathing three times a day: when you first wake up in the morning, right after lunch and before going to bed (or while in bed), and maybe even for longer than 5 minutes, if your schedule allows.
Other Breathwork Resources
- Breathing Meditation (COMING SOON)
- Breathing Through Discomfort (COMING SOON)
- Healing Card Deck: A Therapist’s Advice 55-Card Healing Deck by Sara Cloostermans
- Book Recommendation: Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor
- Mantra: I AM RESTFULNESS // repeat with diaphragmatic breathing (you now know how to do that!)
- Yin Yoga Asana: Bananasana
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