By Anna Burns, PT, DPT
Infinite Potential Physical Therapist
One of the simplest things you can do for your core, your pain, and your stress level is to breathe. When working out or concentrating, it’s always the first thing to go. Our diaphragm is directly connected with our nervous system. When our nervous system is on high alert with pain, stress, anxiety, or fear, engaging our diaphragm can switch the nervous system from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest,” decreasing pain and stress levels. It’s one of our best tools to manage pain.
We have adopted a couple of different ways of breathing that “get around” the diaphragm. One is breathing with the upper chest; this breath is “emergency” breathing, a very shallow pattern that we perform when we are stressed or scared. Click HERE for an example of Emergency Breathing
Another way is “belly breathing,” in which we distend our bellies outward on purpose. While the belly rising is normal with inhalation, it should not be consciously distended. Click HERE for an example of Belly Breathing
Optimal breath engages our diaphragm, a large muscle that sits under our lungs and over our stomach. By breathing into this area that touches all aspects of the rib cage, the diaphragm contracts to expand the surface area for oxygen intake in our lungs. When we exhale completely, the diaphragm relaxes to push out the stale air. To activate your diaphragm, breathe in through your nose (CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO). Visualize a balloon in that area expanding as you inhale. Exhale slowly through your mouth, deflating the balloon, as far as you can until you have no air left. Pause a second, and then inhale again through your nose. Try not to bulge out your belly on purpose or move your back. In fact, I love practicing this laying on my back. So take a mindful moment (or several!) throughout your day to breathe. As one of our clients likes to say, “Breathing is NOT optional!”