How To Do The Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise
How To Do The Diaphragm Breathing Exercise
Okay, so you know that breathing is pretty vital for, well, just staying alive, but did you know that how you breathe has a direct impact on your health too?
There’s a simple practice known as the Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise, or Diaphragmatic Breathing. This is used during meditation as a way of relaxing and calming the body and mind.
This diaphragmatic breathing exercise is not only important for meditation. It’s vital for the proper functioning of your body. As it plays a role in regulating the release of certain chemicals and hormones within the human body.
If you didn’t already know how important it is to breath properly then please read on. I’ll show you why this diaphragmatic breathing exercise is important. And I’ll show you how it’s done.
The Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise Influences Melatonin and Cortisol
Your breathing has a direct effect upon two very important hormones in your body. Melatonin and Cortisol.
Balancing these two hormones is necessary for optimum health.
Melatonin regulates your reproductive cycle and is responsible for regulating your night and day cycles, or sleep-wake cycles.
When your environment becomes dark, this causes the body to produce more melatonin, which signals your body to prepare for sleep.
Similarily, when it gets light, this signals the body to produce less melatonin, which wakes you up. Knowing what these two chemicals are, their purpose and what they do for and to the human body is vitally important for understanding what it means to be healthy.
Let’s look at melatonin and cortisol in more detail.
The Sleep Regulator Melatonin
There is a massive amount of research into sleep and sleep deprivation. And effecting your bodies melatonin production can have serious consequences for your health.
Studies have shown that if you don’t get enough sleep or have poor quality sleep that:
- your cognitive functions deteriorate, impairing your attention, alertness, concentration, memory, reasoning and problem solving, making it more difficult to learn something and have full awareness of your surroundings and what you are doing.
- you run a greater risk of having a fatal accident, whether in the car or elsewhere. The 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the huge Exxon Valdez oil spill and the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, among many other of histories biggest disasters, all had sleep deprivation as a major contributing factor.
- your sex drive is likely to take a tumble. Sleep specialists claim that sleep-deprived males and females both reported lower libidos and a reduced interest in sex. This is likely to do with having less energy, being generally sleepy and having more tension within the body.
- sleep disorders and chronic sleep deprivation increase your risk of developing cardiovascular conditions such as an irregular heartbeats, heart attacks, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and even heart failure. In the ‘Whitehall II Study,’ British researchers looked at how sleep patterns affected the mortality of more than 10,000 British civil servants over two decades. The results, published in 2007, showed that those who had cut their sleep from seven to five hours or fewer a night nearly doubled their risk of death from all causes. In particular, lack of sleep doubled the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
- people with depression or anxiety were more likely to sleep less than six hours a night and that those with insomnia have the strongest link to depression. Insomnia is often one of the first symptoms of depression and depression can make it difficult to fall sleep, so you can appreciate the difficulty in escaping from such a negative cycle.
- when you don’t get enough sleep that your body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol which, in excess amounts, can break down skin collagen, the protein responsible for keeping your skin smooth, elastic and young looking.
Now we’re on the topic of Cortisol, lets look at how this hormone has a direct impact upon your health.
The Killer Stress Hormone Cortisol
I have to say that the previous heading, ‘The Killer Stress Hormone Cortisol’, is not at all an exaggeration. Cortisol can reek havoc within your body however, Cortisol is not the evil chemical it may at first seem to be.
Cortisol is vital in the human body and is a life sustaining adrenal hormone that’s essential for maintaining our good health and well-being. And cortisol influences and regulates many of the changes that occur in the human body in response to stress, including:
- Blood sugar levels
- Fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism to maintain blood sugar levels
- Immune responses
- Anti-inflammatory actions
- Blood pressure
- Heart and blood vessel tone and contraction
- Central nervous system activation
These are only a handful of the important and healthy functions of what’s commonly known as the stress hormone Cortisol, so it forms an important and necessary part of healthy bodily function.
However, while Cortisol is vital to your health, it’s also extremely important that bodily functions and cortisol levels return to normal levels following a stressful event.
Stress prepares out body for action. Although if our body is stressed for prolonged periods and regularly, this is when cortisol can have devastating effects upon your body.
We all know that the world we live in is anything but Eden. And times now are especially hard. So it can be difficult to give our body, and cortisol levels, enough time to return to normal.
The problem with this is that, if you don’t allow your Cortisol levels to return to normal, it can lead to health problems. This is because if you have too much cortisol circulating around your body, or you have too little, your adrenal glands become chronically fatigued. As with everything in life and especially the human body, balance is key.
High and More Prolonged Levels of Circulating Cortisol Have Been Shown to Have Negative Effects Such As:
- Impaired cognitive performance
- Dampened thyroid function
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Decreased bone density
- Sleep disruption
- Decreased muscle mass
- Elevated blood pressure
- Lowered immune function
- Slow wound healing
- Increased abdominal fat (some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat are heart attacks, strokes, higher levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL), which can lead to other health problems.
You’ll notice that quite a few of the above negative effects of having too much cortisol in your system are the same as that of having a melatonin imbalance.
So the consequences of your breathing (affecting both cortisol and melatonin production) can have a synergistic effect upon the body (meaning two parts which, when working together, have a greater effect than they could when working alone).
The human body, when fully well and healthy, is a finely balanced chemical factory. So when one part of your body is imbalanced, this too creates an imbalance upon other aspects of your body.
Chronic Low Levels of Circulating Cortisol Have Been Shown to Have Negative Effects Such As:
- Brain fog, cloudy-headedness and mild depression
- Low thyroid function
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Fatigue – especially morning and mid-afternoon fatigue
- Sleep disruption
- Low blood pressure
- Lowered immune function
How the Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise Affects Your Cortisol and Melatonin Production
What do these two hormones do to the body? And why it’s important they remain in healthy balance? Let’s look at how the production of these two hormones are affected by how you breathe.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine & National Institutes of Health, one of the worlds most respected peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals, has published its findings on the diaphragmatic breathing exercise from the Department of Experimental Medicine and Public Health in Italy, and quotes:
“Diaphragm breathing is relaxing and therapeutic, reduces stress, and is a fundamental procedure of Pranayama Yoga, Zen, transcendental meditation and other meditation practices. Analysis of oxidative stress levels in people who meditate indicated that meditation correlates with lower oxidative stress levels, lower cortisol levels and higher melatonin levels.
It is known that cortisol inhibits enzymes responsible for the antioxidant activity of cells and that melatonin is a strong antioxidant. Therefore, in this study, we investigated the effects of diaphragm breathing on exercise-induced oxidative stress and the putative role of cortisol and melatonin hormones in this stress pathway.
We monitored 16 athletes during an exhaustive training session. After the exercise, athletes were divided in two equivalent groups of eight subjects. Subjects of the studied group spent 1h relaxing performing diaphragm breathing and concentrating on their breath in a quiet place. The other eight subjects, representing the control group, spent the same time sitting in an equivalent quite place.
Results demonstrate that relaxation induced by diaphragm breathing increases the antioxidant defense status in athletes after exhaustive exercise. These effects correlate with the concomitant decrease in cortisol and the increase in melatonin. The consequence is a lower level of oxidative stress, which suggests that an appropriate diaphragm breathing could protect athletes from long-term adverse effects of free radicals.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19875429
The results of this research are huge. And you don’t need to be an athlete, zen master or meditation expert to reep the benefits of the diaphragmatic breathing exercise either.
Breathing using your diaphragm has been scientifically proven to significantly improve your health. In a vast number of ways.
And we haven’t even covered the mental and psychological benefits of the diaphragmatic breathing exercise. But as i’m sure you can guess, the outcome of which is nothing but positive.
How to Perform the Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise
To ensure you are doing the diaphragmatic breathing exercise properly, perform the following exercise:
- Lie back down on a flat surface, such as the floor, and place a book on your stomach.
- Now inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, breathing in for a count of roughly 4 or 5 seconds. As you breath in, use your stomach muscles to push the book up. Without moving your chest. (This ensures you are using your diaphragm muscle to breath and not your upper chest).
- On your exhale, exhale through either your nose or mouth and allow your stomach to relax. Returning the book to its starting position without force.
Now you know how to breath using your diaphragm, attempt to perform that exercise standing up. Remember to use your stomach to breathe without moving your chest. It’s as simple as that. What easier way could there be to drastically improve your health.
If you notice your chest moving when you inhale, correct your breathing. And simply return your focus to breathing with your abdomen. Do this regularly and get into the habit of breathing from your diaphragm and it will soon become second nature.
To create the habit, continue to do this for 21 days at least. And you will be performing the diaphragmatic breathing exercise without having to consciously direct your attention to doing so.