We’ve had quite an extraordinary year. The stress of the pandemic was perhaps very acute for you, or maybe it was always just lurking in the corner. Stress has a way of creeping up on us, with stressful thoughts starting to govern our day and tightness settling into our body. Because stress tends to restrict free and easy breathing, it has a negative effect on the whole body. This blog about releasing the diaphragm for better health and vitality explores how the breath can help you release physical and mental tensions. By taking a short time each day to simply breathe and centre yourself, you can create a peaceful haven for yourself. It will help you stay calm yet energised, ready to face whatever the rest of this year has in store.
How freeing the breath can help you de-stress
Stress, worries and negative emotions can cause the respiratory muscles to tighten and result in faster and shallow breathing. The diaphragm, our main respiratory muscle, tightens easily when we are in a constant flight or fight mode. When the diaphragm moves less freely, smaller respiratory muscles have to work harder and use more energy. As a result, the deeper areas in the lungs, where most blood is waiting to bring oxygen to the cells, receive less oxygen. This restricted breathing has a negative effect on the whole body and can lead to an increased heart rate, impaired digestion, muscle tensions, back pain, stress, anxiety and lack of energy.
When the diaphragm moves freely, it functions as an inner healer. It massages the abdominal organs and the heart, relaxes the lower back, allows cells to be more oxygenated, and soothes the nervous system. A freely moving diaphragm can reduce physical and emotional tensions and recharge your energy. It enables the breath to act as a powerful life force.
When the diaphragm is tight, , we cannot simply tell it to relax. In fact, one of the hardest commands to follow is “relax”! It is one that yoga teachers avoid while teaching a class, because it would probably have the opposite effect. We usually get more stressed when we are trying very hard to relax. However, our mind can help us in a surprising way. If we simply pay attention to our breathing, it usually slows down by itself. The relaxation response can switch on in stressful situations by simply focusing on the breath without controlling or judging it. Next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, pay attention to your breath and see what happens.
Releasing the diaphragm
Apart from the straightforward technique of observing the breath, there are many other methods that help us breathe more freely.
Stretch. It helps to stretch and release the muscles of the trunk by doing movements as described in many of my other blogs. The ones described here can be done at your desk: https://beneyoga.co.uk/eight-ways-to-stretch-at-your-desk-when-you-wfh/
Releasing the diaphragm. In this restorative rest position, the area of the diaphragm and lungs is gently stretched. It helps to release tightness in the diaphragm passively, provided this position is comfortable.
Arrange a blanket in a long strip or use a bolster or bolster-like cushion. The shoulders and head will rest on the floor or on a lower level. The height of the head depends on how your neck is most comfortable. With a lower support under the back, the head can possibly rest on the mat. With a higher support, you may need one or two blankets for the shoulders and head. Ideally the forehead is a little higher than the chin. Rest for 5 to 10 minutes, aware of the sensations in the body and the breath.
Lengthen the exhalation. Sit down in a comfortable position, with both sitting bones equally touching the surface on which you sit. Feel the crown of the head gently extending upwards. Allow the front and back of the body to be equally long and broad. This means neither rounding the spine backward nor sticking the chest forward.
Breathe out 5 times with a blowing exhalation. This extends the exhalation naturally and has a calming effect, the best way to “let go off steam.”
Nostril Awareness: Breathing normally, notice how cool air enters the nostrils and how the breath feels warmer as you breathe out. Follow these sensations for a minute or two.
Abdominal breathing: Lying on a yoga mat or blanket, bend your knees and place your hands on the lower abdomen. Observe the movement underneath your hands: inhaling causes the abdomen to rise, exhaling makes everything rest down again.
Without interfering or trying to change anything, simply follow the natural rhythm of your abdominal breathing for at least 5 minutes. Don’t worry if you suddenly realise that your mind has wandered. This is normal and you can simply re-focus your attention. Think of every observed breath as a little bit more energy restored.
Every day, take a short time to relax with these simple breathing techniques and step away from stress and anxiety. In the long run it will also increase your ability to stay aware and sensitive in the middle of stressful situations.
Because we are all different, our breathing can be restricted for various reasons. If you are interested in finding out which movements are right for you and how you can optimise your breathing, don’t hesitate to contact me here: https://beneyoga.co.uk/contact-for-yoga-classes-in-chiswick/ and set up a free phone consultation.