Begin with breathing for improved health and wellness

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.

A woman closing her eyes and relaxing in nature.
Photo: Pexels/Oleksandr Pidvalnyi.

Deep breathing or belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is a simple technique to practice and one that can supply important health benefits. The Cleveland Clinic recognizes that this type of breathing increases lung efficiency and 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 the benefits of belly breathing to reduce stress and anger, improve your relaxation and assist in overcoming fears. Physical health practitioners often point to shallow breathing or chest breathing as a contributor to poor digestion, poor sleep, increased blood pressure, a loss of mental focus and a decrease in energy levels

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 stomach 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.

If you find that you tend to be a chest breather, 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.

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 inhaling as if you are smelling a fragrant flower or a welcomed cup of coffee, 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. This Michigan State University Extension video demonstrates belly breathing. Feel free to watch the video and follow along for a moment of relaxation.  

Paying attention to your breathing is easy to do on a regular basis. Deep breathing practice can be done at home, work, in your car and throughout the day. This type of 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, anxious, or to restore your energy in the middle of a stressful day. If you have young children in your life, share your belly breathing practice with them as one way to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Michigan State University Extension recognizes the importance of learning to breathe deeply in the delivery of the Stress Less with Mindfulness workshop series. Classes are available online and in-person. The series includes 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.

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