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In part 1, we discussed the different types of breathing and we assessed our own breathing style. In this blog, we will be looking at the various benefits of abdominal breathing and certain techniques which you can practice in order to improve your breathing.

Numerous research suggest various mental and physical health benefits as a result of abdominal breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing). Abdominal breathing:

  • Links our body and mind

Breathing properly can enable us to control our emotions and maintain a clear and sharp mind. The way we breathe changes depending on our state of mind, our emotions and also depending on the situation we are in (Hall, n.d.). Through breathing, we can control and change how we feel. Our breathing can be actively controlled by simply focusing on our breath, how we breathe, and simply allowing it to pass through. If we breathe gently, steadily, slowly and deeply, this signals our body and mind that we are relaxed and safe, and therefore our physical and mental states will calm down (Brigham Young University, n.d.; Hall, n.d.). Responding to this, our body will produce less stress hormones, but will produce more endorphins (feel-good hormones).

  • Helps us to live in the present

Many times, our mind and body are not unified, as the mind is usually thinking about one thing, and the body is doing another. In focusing on our breathing, we unify the body and mind and they work together as they are both focused on the same thing. Through concentrating on our breathing and practicing breathing exercises, we ground ourselves and we learn to live in the present and feel alive. Through living in the present, we gain more awareness and become more in touch with life. Apart from this, it helps us to avoid worrying about things that don’t matter and about the future (Manfredi, n.d.).

  • It helps management and coping with symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress, anxiety and sleeplessness.
  • Promotes calm and relaxation
  • Boosts mental clarity
  • Strengthens the diaphragm
  • Improves our respiratory functioning
  • Lowers heart rate and blood pressure
  • Reduces oxygen demand
  • Maintains blood pH levels
  • Stimulates and promotes healthy and optimal function of organs and glands
  • Boosts immunity
  • Detoxifies the body
  • Maintain healthy digestive function
  • Improves core muscle stability
  • Improves the body’s ability to tolerate intense exercise.
  • Lowers chances of injuring or wearing out muscles
  • Increases theta brain waves; associated with increased creativity, increased memory and increased concentration
  • Relieves pain
  • Increases energy levels
  • Helps support correct posture

Techniques

One can find an abundance of techniques for abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing online or on YouTube. Below is one of the most basic breathing techniques, suggested by Cleveland Clinic (2018), which you can try to do in your own time.

For first timers, it is suggested that you try this exercise lying down.

  1. Lie down on a flat surface or in your bed.
  2. Bend your knees and support your head. A pillow can be placed under the knees to support your legs.
  3. In order to feel your diaphragm move whilst breathing, place one hand on the upper chest, and the other on your stomach, just below the rib cage.
  4. Inhale through your nose and allow your stomach to move out against your hand. Your chest should remain still. As you inhale, your muscles tighten.
  5. Exhale through your mouth, letting your stomach and muscles fall inward. Here, you will notice that your hand over your stomach falls inwards too, but the chest should remain still.

It is suggested that you practice this exercise for 5-10 minutes about 3 to 4 times each day and that gradually, you may start to increase the amount of time you spend on this exercise. Eventually, you can also try the above exercise whilst sitting down comfortably on a chair. It may be tiring at first, however, with continued practice, this type of breathing will become easier and automatic. Given the many physical and mental health benefits abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing offers, it is worth giving it a try.

Michela Aquilina is a trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist who is currently reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy at the Gestalt Psychotherapy Training Institute Malta (GPTIM) and is working as a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist with Willingness Team. Michela offers therapy to young adults and adults who are experiencing various challenges and issues relating to mental health and psychosocial, emotional wellbeing.

References
Brigham Young University (n.d.). Importance of breathing. Retrieved from: https://caps.byu.edu/importance-of-breathing

Cleveland Clinic (2018). Diaphragmatic breathing. Retrieved from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9445-diaphragmatic-breathing

Hall, R. (n.d.). The importance of breathing. Unimed Living. Retrieved from: https://www.unimedliving.com/living-medicine/medicine-and-living-medicine/the-importance-of-breathing.html

Manfredi, D. (n.d.). To feel alive and happy, we need to live in the present. How to Be Happy. Retrieved from: http://howtobehappy.guru/to-feel-alive-and-happy-we-need-to-live-in-the-present/