The act of breathing: It is absolutely essential to our lives, yet we hardly ever think about it. The simple act of inhaling delivers clean air to our eager lungs, which is then distributed to the entire body via our red blood cells, producing energy. From the moment we are born, long before we are capable of understanding why, our instinct kicks in and we start breathing. It’s almost unbelievable that something so instinctual is also so vital.
Because it is such a basic instinct, few people actually acknowledge their breathing – unless, of course, they have a reason to. A few reasons one may pay special attention to their breathing could be:
- After engaging in exercise or high-intensity physical activity. This may leave one feeling “out of breath” and draw attention to the abnormal breathing pattern.
- Individuals who engage in yoga, meditation, or any other activity that requires you to pay specific attention to your breath. There are many mindful breathing activities to help individuals focus on their breathing.
- Feeling unwell. There are numerous respiratory problems which can range from mild to serious. A common cold may result in a bothersome cough, while serious respiratory problems can cause shortness of breath and require a respirator.
As news stories about COVID-19 circulate around the globe, many of us are becoming increasingly concerned about our respiratory health. We all want to be well, and we want our loved ones healthy, too. When a primary function like breathing is jeopardized, it can be very scary. If you are concerned about your breathing or respiratory health, it is important to seek medical assistance promptly. If your breathing is relatively healthy, now is a great time to incorporate the practice of diaphragmatic breathing into your routine to optimize and strengthen your respiratory system.
What Is Diaphragmatic Breathing?
Put simply, diaphragmatic breathing is a practice that engages your diaphragm correctly while breathing. The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle at the base of your lungs and is responsible for your most productive breathing. Effortlessly, your diaphragm contracts (or gets tighter) when you inhale, effectively opening your chest cavity so your lungs can expand and take in oxygen. When you exhale, your diaphragm expands again. Consequently, when you breathe deeply, this muscle works harder to allow the maximum amount of healthful oxygen in.
Diaphragmatic breathing, also sometimes called “abdominal breathing,” is highly beneficial to the entire body. Just like working any other muscle makes it stronger, frequent practice of diaphragmatic breathing can make a positive difference in your day-to-day breathing by strengthening your diaphragm. Using this technique regularly can:
- Slow the heart rate
- Have a positive impact on blood pressure
- Slow your breathing rate to a healthy pace
- Make healthy, productive breathing more effortless and effective
Diaphragmatic Breathing: Step-By-Step
Diaphragmatic breathing is typically done laying down, but can also be practiced sitting upright in a chair. It is recommended to engage in this practice for up to ten minutes, three to four times per day for optimal results. Remember to be patient with yourself, as you are truly giving your primary breathing muscle a “work out.”
Lie on your back on a comfortable flat surface.
Bend your knees, and support your head with a pillow.
Note: You can use a pillow to support your bent knees if that is more comfortable.
Rest one hand on your upper chest and the other just above the belly button.
This allows you to feel your diaphragm expanding and contracting as you breathe.
Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose.
As you inhale, observe your belly rising as your lungs fill with air and your diaphragm contracts.
Fully exhale while flexing your stomach muscles. You should exhale using the “pursed-lip” technique for maximum effectiveness. For reference, some use a similar technique to blow out a candle.
Note: After exhaling, the hand on your stomach should lower to its original position, while the hand on your chest should have remained nearly motionless through the entire exercise.
Repeat for five to ten minutes, paying close attention to your technique.
You can modify this technique to accommodate sitting upright in a chair if you prefer, though many beginners find laying down to be slightly more comfortable. To modify this exercise to accommodate sitting in a chair, simply:
- Step 1. Sit upright in a chair. Pull your shoulders back to engage in good posture.
- Step 2. Rest one hand on your upper chest and the other just above the belly button.
- Step 3. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. (As you inhale, observe your belly expanding as your lungs fill with air and your diaphragm contracts.)
- Step 4. Fully exhale while flexing your stomach muscles.
- Step 5. Repeat for five to ten minutes, paying close attention to your posture and technique.
This breathing activity may be challenging when you begin, but over time, it will become much easier. Soon, this deep breathing technique will become natural to you, and you will more easily take deep, refreshing breaths. Stick with it, and watch how much easier the exercise gets!
Stay Well with Pharmstrong™
Breathing and overall respiratory health are always important. Especially now, it is particularly vital to take good care of yourself, engage in healthy activities to promote increased well-being, and to stay well. Your friends at Pharmstrong™ take our commitment to your wellness seriously, and we are deeply invested in providing helpful information and resources to our customers and the community. We believe that detailed knowledge equips us with power, and by learning the most natural ways to promote optimal health, we can be our very best each day.
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