Begin with your breathing for improved health and wellness

Controlling your breath and making a practice of regular, deep breathing may be one easy way to lower your stress level as well as provide many other health benefits.

Belly breathing or deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is easy to access and available wherever you go. Relaxed breathing is an easy skill to practice and one that can supply important health benefits. The Mayo Clinic recognizes that this type of breathing can assist in slowing down breathing, relax muscle tension and promote a relaxation response that may help improve your overall mental and physical health.

Mental health practitioners have long recognized belly breathing as a way to reduce stress and anger, improve your relaxation and assist in overcoming fears. Physical health practitioners often point to shallow breathing as a contributor to poor digestion, poor sleep, increased blood pressure, a loss of mental focus and a decrease in energy levels.

Deep breathing involves inhaling steadily and slowly through your nose, filling your belly with air before filling the lungs. Hold this breath for a few seconds before exhaling all your air through your mouth; slowly and steadily as if you are blowing bubbles. Tips for belly breathing include using your inhale as if you are smelling a fragrant flower or a welcomed cup of hot cocoa, then filling your belly with air as if it is a large balloon being inflated. By repeating this breathing process for several minutes you can signal your body to relax.

How can you tell if you are a chest or belly breather? One easy way to tell is to place one hand on your abdomen just below your waist and the other hand on your chest and breathe normally. Pay close attention to both hands and to which one moves the most to see which type of breathing you are using. Chest breathing is not as efficient as belly breathing because blood flow in the lungs is greatest in the lower lobes of the lungs. Chest breathers have limited expansion of their air; there is less oxygen transferred to the blood and nutrients are consequently not delivered efficiently.

Babies belly breathe quite normally, but as we age we change the breathing process to include a sucking in of air and sucking in our stomachs. The good news is that you can train your body to breathe more efficiently. By practicing regularly, you can experience improved breathing techniques that can continue to contribute to overall health and wellness.

Michigan State University Extension recognizes the importance of learning to breathe deeply through their partnership with West Virginia University Extension in the delivery of the Stress Less with Mindfulness workshop series. Classes are available in many locations in a series of five classes that introduce participants to mindful breathing, eating, walking and laughter as well as ways to calm your mind and introduce some ways to lower stress and improve your lifestyle.

Breathing with the belly is a practice that is easy to do on a regular basis. You don’t have to purchase any workout equipment. Belly breathing can be done at home, work or in your car. You can practice deep breathing several times during the day. Mindful breathing is a great way to begin your day before your feet even hit the floor and an equally beneficial way to end your day by relaxing before you fall asleep. Use belly breathing when you are tense or anxious or just as a way to restore your energy in the middle of a stressful day at work or home. If you share your life with young children, share your belly breathing practice with them as one way to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

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