Lesson 3: Breathing the Right and Wrong Way

Breathing the Wrong Way: Shallow Breathing

Shallow breathing: It is the way many of us breathe during our waking life. Shallow breathing is the opposite of diaphragmatic breathing, the type of breathing that inhales fully into the lungs and exhales deeply to release the air. Shallow breathing is when we breathe into our chest instead of our lungs. 

Breathing into the chest overuses the muscles of the neck and upper body, these muscles are needed when in emergency situations, however, they tire easily and when overused will eventually leave you tired and anxious. Chest breathing is exhausting rather than restorative. 

Shallow breathing keeps the body in a state of fight, flight-or-freeze instead of in a relaxed state. Let’s become familiar with the difference between shallow breathing and diaphragmatic breathing below.

Shallow breathing: 

  1. Put your left hand on your chest,
  2. Inhale through your nose so that you breathe into your chest area.
  3. Feel your chest rise as you inhale.
  4. As you exhale, feel your chest relax.

This style of breathing keeps your nervous system in a fight, flight-or-freeze response. Therefore, it does not allow the central nervous system to fully relax. This causes stress to your body and reduces oxygen levels in the bloodstream. Oxygen is needed for the body to function properly.

Breathing the Right Way: Diaphragmatic Breathing

The correct way to breathe when seeking to calm the central nervous system is diaphragmatic breathing or breathing into your abdomen. Diaphragmatic breathing is the expansion and rise of the abdomen as you inhale and falls as you exhale, fully releasing all of the air. The diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle at the base of the lungs, plays an important role in breathing- though you may not be aware of it. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts (tightens) and moves downward. This creates more space in your chest cavity, allowing the lungs to expand. When you exhale, the opposite happens- your diaphragm relaxes and moves upward in the chest cavity.

Diaphragmatic breathing encourages full oxygen to enter and exit the lungs. This type of breathing slows the heartbeat and can lower or stabilize blood pressure. This type of breathing is relaxing and restorative. 

It is also significant to mention the importance of inhaling and exhaling through the nose to calm the central nervous system.

Now let’s practice breathing deeply – this is known as diaphragm breathing.

  1. Put your right hand on your abdomen,
  2. Inhale through your nose so that you breathe into your abdomen/abdomen area.
  3. Feel your abdomen rise as you inhale.
  4. As you exhale, feel your abdomen relax.
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