Breath is life. We cannot live more than a few minutes without it. With the inhale, we take oxygen into our body, and with the exhale we expel the waste product carbon dioxide. The gas exchange occurs in the lungs between the air sacs and the lung capillaries. The heart pumps the blood to the organs and tissues to deliver the oxygen and transfers it back to the lungs to get rid of the carbon dioxide. This complex process keeps us alive and healthy!
However, we may unconsciously interfere with our breathing. Especially under stress, breathing gets shallow and more rapid and we have a tendency to hold our breath. Excessive tension in the body makes it difficult to breathe deeply and fully. Shallow breathing compromises the balance in our body and may cause or worsen conditions such as high blood pressure, respiratory disorders, headaches, chronic pain, sleeping disorders, digestive troubles, and many others.
The good news is that we can change our breathing and therefore, improve our health! Even though breathing is an automatic body function, controlled by the respiratory centre of the brain, it can also be deliberately influenced by ourselves. It is the only body function that operates involuntarily and voluntarily.
How does breathing work?
The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle slung underneath the lungs. It divides the thoracic cavity and the abdominal cavity. When we inhale, the diaphragm contracts down and pushes the abdominal organs down and against the abdominal wall. With the exhale the diaphragm relaxes and gets back to its dome-shaped form. If your abdomen gently moves in and out while you breathe, then you are breathing well.
Take a moment... to breathe!
Sit or lie down comfortably. Put one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen. Wait. Let the inhale take place by itself. Notice your belly expanding underneath your hand. Notice the chest lift only a little. Exhale and wait again for the next inhale. By bringing more attention to your body, your breathing may get deeper and fuller!
Do you notice only movement in your chest rather than in your abdomen? Do you raise your shoulders when inhaling? Do you feel that your chest and rib cage feel tight? Excessive tension in belly, chest and back make it difficult for the diaphragm to move freely. Most adult have developed habits that restrict free breathing.
Reflexology and the Alexander Technique both assist the body to find optimal breathing. Rather than forcing deeper breathing, sessions in Reflexology and the Alexander Technique help you to release muscle tension, allow more freedom in your body and let breathing happen more naturally.