Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Breathing -To learn why correct breathing is so important and how to breathe correctly to reduce anxiety.

Breathing is something we quite honestly take for granted. An incorrect breathing habit can contribute to anxiety, panic attacks, depression, muscle tension, fatigue and more. [4] Breathing awareness may sound a little out there for some, but its actually an extremely important aspect of self management for all of us. The idea of this page is to teach you how to improve your breathing overall.

A Quick Anatomy Of Breathing
We inhale oxygen through our mouth and nose, we exhale the waste product, being carbon dioxide. Think of your lungs like a tree with many branches. The branches are our bronchial tubes, the leaves are our little elastic air sacs (alveoli). The alveoli is what expands and retracts with air as we breath in (expands), then breathe out (collapses). Think of the veins leaves have. Well, each sack has the same thing, small blood vessels (capillaries) that when we breathe in, the oxygen is mixed into our blood system, which our heart continues to pump throughout our body. Now, as that blood is pumped around our body, the carbon dioxide in our blood is released back into our lungs through the same capillaries, through alveoli's and back up through the bronchial tubes and out of our mouth upon exhale.

That is a simplified breakdown of an otherwise complicated biological procedure. You really need to keep this quick anatomy in your mind as you progress, because this is the foundation to understanding how poor breathing causes the issues within the opening introduction of this page.

There are two types of breathing:

1. Chest (thoracic)
2. Abdominal (diaphragmatic)

The first is bad, the second is good. Now before you say, "I've tried changing my breathing and failed", I'm going to give you a small reality check. Abdominal breathing (the good type) is what you naturally do when sleeping. This is the type of breathing we perform naturally as a baby. So whilst you are breathing during the day in your chest, when you sleep, your actually breathing via your abdominal. My point is, don't let your brain try and tell you it can't be done, because your brain does this for you automatically the moment you sleep.

Why Chest Breathing Is Bad

When you breathe via your chest, as you inhale your chest expands and your shoulders rise to fit the air. There is a two fold issue with this type of breathing, firstly: Shallow, irregular and rapid breathing exacerbates stress, anxiety, emotional distress, tension, poor posture and more. This causes too little oxygen to get within your lungs to oxygenate your blood, plus, too little time for the carbon dioxide within your blood to get back out of your body. This leads to fatigue and depression. From chest breathing, you suddenly heighten the risks for the above, plus light-headedness, heart palpitations, weakness, numbness, tingling, agitation and overall shortness of breath. When you have the extreme end of incorrect breathing, you get imbalanced inhale vs exhale and the end result can be hyperventilation. [3]

Abdominal Breathing
This is the natural pattern babies use, and adults during sleep. Its when we're awake we become our own worst enemies, feeding anxiety symptoms due to poor breathing. Learning diaphragmatic breathing teaches deeper, slower and more rhythmic breathing cycles. Our body inhales and correctly oxygenates our blood, whilst giving our system enough time to correctly dispel carbon dioxide from our blood and body. In with the good, out with the bad, efficiently. The end result is that your blood becomes correctly balanced to normalize your heart rate, reduce muscle tension, anxiety and stress related symptoms. Yes, all from just breathing correctly.

Learning To Breath Correctly
Changing your breathing type when awake takes time, but you can get this happening within minutes. It will take you months of constant conscious assessment to catch yourself breathing incorrectly, correct yourself, and continue, yet with practice it will become instinctual.

There are times when breathing is an exercise, ie. during heightened symptoms. This is when finding an isolated, quiet area is essential, as part of your relaxation regime. You should focus to breath through your nose, not your mouth, especially if conducting breathing for a relaxation exercise opposed to daily general breathing.

Position yourself so your comfortable. You could lay down, relax against a tree, be in your favorite chair, yoga position, there is no right or wrong answer to this.

How Do I Breath Currently?
An easy question which has an easy answer. Lay on your back, place one hand on your chest, one hand on your abdomen. Breath in and out normally. Take notice on which hand raises further, the one on your chest or the one on your abdomen. If your chest raises further, then you are chest breathing. If the hand on your abdomen raises further, you are diaphragmatically breathing.

Teaching Yourself Abdominal Breathing
There is no 100% method to achieve this aim, so you should adjust to your requirements. Below is a simple guide on how to begin teaching yourself how to change breathing styles, so you predominantly use your abdomen vs. chest.

  1. Lay down, place a pillow under your head so you can see your stomach, and then place a book on your abdomen.
  2. Breath so that the book rises and falls.
  3. Getting past difficulties:
  4. Exhale forcefully to empty your lungs, which will create a vacuum that will pull a deep breath into your abdomen. When you revert to chest breathing, repeat procedure.
  5. Push on your abdomen with your hand, then breath in with a goal to force your hand up.
  6. Alternatively, you can roll onto your stomach, then try and breath so your abdomen pushes against the ground on breathing in.
  7. Don't panic if your chest moves as well, because it will. You can't breath through your abdomen without a little movement in your chest, considering your lungs are in located behind your ribs.
  8. Focus on watching your abdomen rising, then your middle chest followed by upper chest will rise slightly. That is the perfect order that your breathing is through your abdomen.
  9. Once you know what it feels like to breath through your diaphragm, you can then concentrate on slowing and regulating your breathing. You can use a guided breathing recording, available all across the web for free when Googled, or make your own through your computer / phone or appropriate device, with a nice slow cadence to breath at a relaxed rate.
  10. You should practice this gradually. Start for a few minutes a day, extending to multiple times daily, and eventually you will be sitting still and will just be able to breath diaphragmatically.
Don't beat yourself up because you can't breath this way all the time. When you exercise for example, your breathing will change through your chest, because you need to breath more rapidly during exercise. The more you practice breathing through your diaphragm, the more instinctively you breath that way whenever at a computer, driving, socializing with friends or family, etc.

Extending Breathing To Mindfulness
Breathing can be extended into other realms of relaxation, such as mindfullness relaxation, meditation and more. There is a link provided [2] that contains free mp3 downloads for those who wish to extend their breathing to relaxation mindfullness. Again, there are plenty of websites that have free audio downloads for breathing, breathing relaxation, meditation with breathing and more. Just Google and you will find, without having to pay.


Davis, Eshelman, McKay, 2008, The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook
Winston, 2011, Mindful Meditation CD (Free Downloads)
Stegen, Simkens, Cauberghs, Schepers, et. al, 1997, Unsteadiness Of Breathing In Patients With Hyperventilation Syndrome And Anxiety Disorders
Kunik, Roundy, Veazey, Souchek, et. al, 2005, Surprisingly High Prevalence of Anxiety and Depression Chronic Breathing Disorders

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