Holistic health care providers have a lot of tools in their toolbox to help patients on their journey to meeting their health goals. A variety of treatments and tools, like nutrition, movement, detoxification plans, and many more are available; but they all pale in comparison to abdominal breathing exercises.
Sometimes people think they need to start managing their health with complex supplements, drugs, and diets, when simple breathing exercises will lay the foundation for health to thrive. And when we say “simple”, abdominal breathing exercises may be easy to learn, but there is always another level to get to. You will start getting benefits right away, you won’t have to buy any fancy equipment, and you can practice anywhere.
3 Advantages of Abdominal Breathing
Calms the Emotions
Energy is dropped from the emotional center (the chest) into the belly (Tan Tian) where it can be circulated through the body appropriately. It is said that when the emotions circulate from the belly you will have a much truer expression of them instead of experiencing irrational or suppressed emotions. Breathing exercises are useful in times of stress or just before bedtime for a more restful sleep. Helpful managing stress-related conditions, such as anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, colitis, eczema, ulcers, insomnia, and bruxism.
Strengthens the Lungs
If you want to strengthen the legs, you might ride a bike. If you want to strengthen the shoulders, you might go swimming. If you want to strengthen the lungs, do breathing exercises. Weak lungs may contribute to conditions such as seasonal allergies, asthma, frequent common colds, sinus infections, ear infections, bronchitis, low energy, cough, dry skin, and weak voice.
Because the nature of this exercise is to drop the breath into the belly, abdominal breathing massages and relaxes all of the organs of digestion and excretion. It can greatly help conditions such as indigestion, nausea, sluggish digestion, gastric reflux, constipation, diarrhea, ulcers, liver dysfunction, poor or excessive appetite, and bloating.
Abdominal Breathing Exercise
- Start either in a comfortable seated position (in a chair or on the floor), or lying down with a pillow under your knees. Place one hand on your chest, and the other around the area of your navel.
- For a minute or so, breathing in and out of your nose, monitor where you “normally” breathe. Don’t change anything, don’t judge where you are breathing, don’t breathe any deeper or shallower. Just observe. You may move your hands to locate where your breath is.
- Once you feel that you know where you “normally” breathe, attempt to relax the chest and abdomen, and drop the breath down towards the belly. Don’t focus on breathing in more air, just try to drop it down. Try to do this by relaxing the abdominal muscles. These first 3 steps should be practiced 5 or 10 minutes, 1 or 2 times a day, for at least a week (don’t rush it) before going on the next step:
- After settling into the breathing for a few minutes, breathe in for a count of 4, suspend your breath (without bearing down) for a count of 4, and exhale for a count of 6. Practice until you gain a good rhythm and feel very comfortable (this might be today, it might be next month). You may then increase the count: breathe in 6, suspend for 6, and exhale for 8. Progress from here as you feel comfortable.
When first practicing abdominal breathing, some people may notice discomfort or anxiety rising as they try to drop their breath. This happens because we are “letting our guard down”, and that can make someone feel vulnerable. This is totally normal and natural. The “fix” is different depending on the person. I recommend scheduling an appointment to go through this with you so I can help you get to a point of comfort. Just knowing this discomfort can happen is calming and helpful.
Practicing Breathing in Daily Life
The purpose of this breathing exercise is to become aware of the places in which we normally breathe and learn to sink the breath down into the belly. Like any skill or discipline, breathing needs to be practiced.
- Practice the breathing exercises several times a day for 1-3 minutes (building up to about 5-10 minutes).
- When you are comfortable with the breathing exercises, apply this way of breathing to applicable situations (stressed, shortness of breath, asthma attack, feeling impatient, digestive upset, trouble sleeping, nervousness, etc).
- Gradually make the transition into breathing into your abdomen all the time. It may take years to make Abdominal Breathing your “default” way of breathing. There’s no need to rush it or get discouraged as there are huge benefits along the way starting with day one.
More Breathing Tips
It is healthier to inhale and exhale through the nose rather than the mouth. The tiny hairs in the nostrils act as a filtering system for the dirt and impurities in the air. And in cold weather, breathing through the nose warms the air before it reaches the lungs, which makes it less “stressful” for the respiratory system. When exercising strenuously or if the nose is clogged due to illness, it’s fine to breathe through the mouth.
There are many other methods of breathing (in the nose, out the mouth, alternate nostril breathing, forced abdominal breathing, etc). Practicing abdominal breathing will support learning other breathing styles should you choose to.