An interesting thing happened over the weekend. My 10-year-old granddaughter wanted to learn how to get “core” strength… so the first thing I began to teach her was Belly Breathing… NEVER expecting it would be so difficult!! She simply could not get the hang of it! She “inhaled” and sucked in her tummy (hollowed out her belly); she completely pushed out her belly (yet holding her breath at the same time) … and was completely baffled by what I was teaching her.
When do we lose the ability to breath correctly?? Are we that stressed out? Was it improper exercise and holding your breath to “do the work”? Author Jane Boston states in her book Breath in Action “We tend to take sips of a breath and hold it when we’re anxious, both of which can have a ripple effect through the system. One bad habit, like shallow breathing, triggers another. Breathing incorrectly can make you more susceptible to lower back pain.” Lower back pain?… are you kidding? Wow! There’s another piece to the puzzle of the epidemic of back pain in our society!
So today we are going to learn how to breathe … Let’s try an exercise together. Begin by closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing. Are you:
breathing rapidly or slowly?
taking deep breaths or shallow breaths?
feeling the breath in the center of your chest, or down in your tummy?
Most people tend to breathe in an abnormal way, sucking in their tummies and breathing using the muscles of their upper chest, neck and shoulders. This is not the most effective way to get needed oxygen to our brain and muscles. Watch babies breathe … they breathe with their whole bodies, their bellies rise and fall with each breath. We stop doing this when we outgrow diapers… why? No one really has an answer.
But we can relearn how to breathe properly – using our abdomens (and thus engaging our deepest layer of abdominals, the transverse). This helps us control stress! Abdominal breathing is the single most effective strategy for stress reduction! A person’s normal breathing rate is 8-12 breaths per minute. Someone stressed or having a panic attack tends to breathe faster (up to 20-30 breaths per minute) shallow. Although we may seem to be breathing more when this happens, we are not actually getting much oxygen in!
Abdominal breathing means breathing fully from your abdomen or from the bottom of your lungs, exactly the opposite of the way you breathe when you’re anxious or tense, typically shallow and high in your chest. When breathing from your abdomen, place your hand on your tummy and see it actually rise with each breath you take. I tell my clients to fill their hand” with air! This will also help you relax when anxious!
To practice abdominal breathing, follow these steps:
Place one hand on your tummy right under your rib cage.
Slowly take a breath and fill your hand with air. Your chest should be “quiet” and move only slightly, while your tummy pushes your hand out a bit (but don’t “force it” … it should be gentle!) **And NO shoulders rising up to your ears!
When taken a full breath, pause for a moment and then exhale fully through your mouth, making a “shhhhh” sound with your lips. As you exhale, just let yourself go and imagine your entire body going loose and limp. It should take you twice as long to exhale as it did to inhale. You will see you automatically bring your belly button in.
In order to fully relax, take and release ten abdominal breaths. Try to keep your breathing smooth and regular throughout, without gulping in a big breath or exhaling suddenly.
Are you relaxed? Did you feel your abdominals work? Guess what…. That’s your transverse waking up and becoming activated! That the first step on your journey to a strong core!