Yoga to improve abdominal breathing
In times of stress, we often hear that we should breathe deeply, through the abdomen, practice diaphragmatic breathing, etc. Does it really help? Yes a little. But it is unlikely that you will be able to restore lasting inner calm without practicing good breathing.
In general, anxious people "breathe with the upper body" (shoulders, collarbones, upper rib cage). This rapid, shallow breathing activates the nervous system, as if you were in a fight or flight situation, preparing the muscles for action. If this bodily mechanism, inherited by our distant ancestors, can be useful in the event of an external stimulus (to alert us to danger), it creates in our modern environment - for example when we are stuck in a traffic jam -, unnecessary stress.
Tell an anxious person to take a deep breath, and there's a good chance they'll over-inflate their upper rib cage (high breathing, also called chest breathing), which will increase their stress level. How do we practice deep and comfortable breathing?
The answer is simple: through education, yoga and body awareness. We explain all this to you in this article.
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Diaphragmatic breathing: definition
The opposite of thoracic breathing (often high and jerky) is diaphragmatic breathing. We often also talk about weak breathing, diaphragmatic or 'belly' breathing, deep breathing, or even diaphragmatic breathing. It consists in relaxing the stomach when inhaling (relaxing the abdominal muscles well),
allowing the lungs to fill with air, then exhaling, leaving the lungs empty, and making a slight contraction of the stomach. The best example is observing a child's breathing. Breathing is a seemingly very simple phenomenon, but nevertheless requires different parts of the body: the diaphragm, the abdomen, the muscles of the trunk, the ribs and the lungs.
Abdominal breathing increases the saturation of the body with oxygen. By deepening the inspiration and exhalation, we reduce the respiratory rate and saturate the body with oxygen. Then the oxygen tells our brain and muscles that everything is under control and all that's left to do is relax. ( 1 )
Health benefits of diaphragmatic breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is used as a mind and body exercise to manage stress and psychosomatic states (ie physical and emotional disturbances caused by external events). (2) Here we give some concrete examples, where thanks to abdominal breathing you can feel better.
Reduce stress and anxiety
Diaphragmatic breathing creates an immediate physical feeling of relaxation. Your thoughts become clearer and levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) drop. ( 3 )
For a woman who is about to give birth, the onset of labor can be a very stressful situation. But those who have trained in diaphragmatic breathing during pregnancy are less anxious. In fact, diaphragmatic breathing can be used as a soothing treatment. You can compare it to taking a mild sedative. ( 4 )
Chronic pain relief
Chronic pain is a complex phenomenon, because it is sometimes difficult to identify a specific physical cause. Scientists and physical therapists believe that certain types of pain are psychosomatic manifestations. In this hypothesis (which has not yet been verified), the pain would be more emotional than physical. Chronic pain can be an expression of a psychological fear that a traumatic event will
happen again. The body would send out a sense of pain because it was afraid that the original accident would happen again. For example, a rib fracture that will still be painful years later would be a physical manifestation of fear of a possible new accident.
Yoga and breathing can help. One study looked at participants with chronic low back pain who attended a seven-day yoga retreat. The resort focused mainly on the breathing techniques of yoga. After 7 days, all participants reported a reduction in anxiety and depression associated with back pain. Many of them also noticed a real improvement in their painful symptoms. ( 5 )
Working on breathing did not completely eliminate the chronic pain, but it did allow them to deal with it better and get a better perception of their general health.
In the VR trial, diaphragmatic breathing helped participants with motion sickness better manage their symptoms. (6) Breathe in from your stomach the next time you feel uncomfortable in the car!
blood pressure stabilization
Changes in heart rate lead to disturbances in blood pressure. People with blood pressure disorders who practiced slow diaphragmatic breathing had a decrease in heart rate changes. ( 7 )
In addition, the slower number of breaths per minute, thanks to diaphragmatic breathing, made it possible to reduce the chronic respiratory discomfort (dyspnea) felt by some participants in this study.
Sports and diaphragm breathing
Regular practice of abdominal breathing can shorten your recovery time and improve your performance during workouts. This has been shown in a study of patients with chronic shortness of breath and in studies of the elderly. ( 8 )
Exercise and breathing techniques
If you want to learn more about sports and breathing exercises, read our article: "Resistance training: 3 breathing techniques".
One of the most important aspects of abdominal breathing is its ability to "massage" the abdomen. Deep breathing helps manage digestive upset, including reducing abdominal pain, cravings, bloating, and constipation. ( 9 )
But abdominal breathing does not only massage the intestines. It is also beneficial for our nervous system! Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. In this particular case, our body produces beneficial hormones that help us rest and digest better. When we breathe deeply, our bodies know it's time to relax.
In addition, a study showed that people with GERD can rest thanks to abdominal breathing. (10) GERD is caused by a defect in a type of "valve" (esophageal sphincter) located at the junction of the esophagus and stomach.
Increase cognitive abilities
Deep breathing increases cognitive abilities and focus. Participants in one study who practiced abdominal breathing showed an increase in their level of attention. ( 11 )
Exhaustion results in two symptoms in particular: an inability to make decisions and diminished attention. Again, deep breathing exercises can help. A study conducted with mental health professionals in case of fatigue revealed that one day of breathing exercises allowed them to develop a better perception of their life and work as well. (12 )
Breathing exercises allow us to become more aware and more present of ourselves and our surroundings. We are more attentive and in tune with our feelings and physical reactions. In fact, we are becoming more aware of our role in society. Breathing exercises associated with meditation allow the development of alertness. ( 13, 14 )
Breathe well to sleep better
Whether you have trouble falling asleep or wake up a lot at night, diaphragmatic breathing can help, too. It has been proven effective on people who suffer from sleep disorders or who have trouble sleeping. (15) Many choose to practice yoga or calming breathing in the evening before bed to get rid of the stress of the day and prepare the body for rest.
Pranayama: Breathing Yoga
The physical practice of asanas (postures), sequences, etc. It is only one aspect of yoga. In fact, the work of breathing before, during and after a yoga session is the main reason for doing yoga.
Pranayama is a group of yogic breathing techniques that stimulate the nervous system and create synergy between body and mind. Most yoga practices begin with some form of focused pranayama. Next, the yogi uses nasal breathing (ujjayi) during postures, and sometimes also associates movement with breathing (vinyasa). While resting in savasana (literally corpse pose), yogis generally practice diaphragmatic breathing (inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth).
Data collected from people who practice yoga confirm a decrease in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system ("fight or flight") and an increase in the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system ("rest and digestion"). (16, 17)
Study on Kriya Yoga
One of the most cited studies on yoga and breathing relates to a specific type of yoga: Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, better known as Kriya Yoga. In fact, the Sanskrit term kriya refers to various rituals of "cleansing practices," ranging from body washing to intense physical exercise. One of the most commonly used pellets is the same kapalabhati, or "breath of fire". This intense respiratory action consists in forcing the
intensity of the exhalation compared to the inhale. This exercise consists of 60 repetitions. It is exercised in a sitting position, legs crossed, hands on the knees. The study found that people who practiced this breathing technique were less stressed, anxious, and depressed. This technique is also sometimes used to treat addiction problems and post-traumatic stress syndrome. (18)
"Fire breathing" is unique in that it actually creates a very severe condition in the nervous system. By practicing this, one learns to remain mentally calm as breathing increases. In fact, you learn to monitor stress from within. After that, the "usual" stressors will seem less severe to you.
be careful ! Kapalbhati is a very powerful emotional physical exercise. Only practice it with a qualified trainer.
The truth is that most of us don't take the time to meditate, especially during times of extreme stress. But it must be said that it is not always easy to make a little time for yourself in our hectic days. Have you ever tried to relax and breathe in front of a pile of dirty dishes? If he can reassure you, we can't either.
This is where yoga comes into play. For many, yoga movements help to refocus on oneself and free themselves from the constant thoughts that attack us. Connecting with your movement helps release psychosomatic tensions. It makes us feel like we're "doing something," calming our hormones involved in escape or response reactions (see above). Since every yoga movement is based on breathing, you begin to breathe more calmly without even realizing it.
Yoga does not use only abdominal breathing. It offers different breathing techniques. The idea is to naturally create a deep breathing cycle through various breathing techniques.
Various breathing exercises
The breathing exercises we offer here will allow you to become a more attentive observer of your breathing patterns. Some styles come from yoga, others from mindfulness practices.
After performing the exercise, sit in silence for a while, breathing "into" your relaxed belly. You will likely find that your breathing remains deeper and more relaxed long after you finish your workout!
We recommend that you perform all of these exercises while sitting. Make yourself comfortable, if necessary, use pillows to prop you up or lean against the wall. Make sure you are in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. If it helps, you can close your eyes.
Purpose: Square (or square) breathing is a classic among therapeutic exercises for calming and calming.
Realization: Inhale while slowly counting 4 beats in your head. Hold your breath for 4 beats. Exhale for 4 beats. Then start the cycle again.
Once you have mastered the exercise, you can do different forms:
Count up to 5 instead of 4
Add an additional phase at the end of the exhalation: inhale (4 times), hold your breath (4 times), exhale (4 times), then hold your breath for 4 repetitions. Start the cycle again.
Alternating Breathing (Nadi Shudhana)
Objective: Alternate nasal breathing is a breathing exercise (pranayama) used before beginning yoga postures (asanas).
Realization: Put your right hand in front of the face. Place your thumb on the right nostril and your ring finger on the left nostril. Your index and middle finger are located on the top of your nose (third eye). Inhale through the left nostril. Close both nostrils and hold your breath. Release the right nostril and exhale through it. Inhale through the right nostril. Close both nostrils and hold your breath. Release the left nostril, and exhale through it. Inhale through the left nostril and repeat the cycle. Try to lengthen/deepen your breath a little at a time. You can repeat this exercise as many times as you like.
Conscious breathing with two hands
Purpose: Some therapists ask their patients to use their hands to feel the movement of areas of their body when they breathe, or to "direct" the breath to specific parts of the body. It is conscious breathing.
Awareness: Conscious breathing can be practiced as you see fit. Simply place your hands on any part of your body that feels stuck, sore, or needs your attention. Breathe deeply into this space. These are some examples:
Place one hand on your lower stomach and one hand on your lower back. Try to move both hands while breathing.
Put a hand on your heart and a hand on your stomach. Inhale toward the abdomen, and exhale toward the heart. This is a common breathing practice for the savasana yoga pose (see above).
Place your hands on the front of the rib cage. Feel your fingers and ribs open and close as you breathe. After a while, move your hands back to your ribs and start over.
Put both hands on your stomach, and relax your stomach between your hands. Notice how the abdomen relaxes and contracts as you breathe in.
Purpose: This breathing technique is often misunderstood as calming breathing. In fact, it is the same prompt that helps to be more alert and focused.
Realization: Close your mouth without catching your lips. Relax your jaw so you don't put pressure on your teeth. Your tongue is naturally located on the top of the palate. Breathe in only through your nose, as if you want to bring your breath down your spine and then back again.
Purpose: This is one of the most effective and classic forms of breathing work. It's a great way to start a yoga or meditation session.
Realization: In a seated position, with your back straight, your spine is stretched, and the muscles in your abdomen, shoulders, and face relaxed. As you inhale, imagine a small white light moving from your nose down your spine. Imagine the white light at the base of the spine as inspiration slows. Exhale to allow the white light to travel up your spine until it comes out from the top of your head. Some white light remains inside. Each inhale produces more white light at the base of the spine. Every exhale gives back more to the world.
Volume exercises and repetitive breathing
Now that you know about the different breathing techniques, the question is how often and for how long you should practice them.
Only you know the answer to this question! The repetition size, duration, and diaphragmatic breathing techniques can vary greatly. Short daily sessions of five to twenty minutes are generally recommended. Some studies show results after just one day of intense training! Others require several months of practice, or one to several weeks of online training sessions. Here are some examples of duration:
Study 1: 8 weeks of stress reduction through mindfulness practice. This produced a significant and lasting effect for more than a month on the level of interest.
Study 2: 30 minutes of breathing work per day with a qualified trainer brought many benefits.
The positive thing is that these breathing techniques work even when practiced in small doses.
So start small: Look at your schedule and identify times when you can work on your breathing. After you get used to these exercises, make an assessment. Have you noticed any changes? Does your mind and body want more? Consider diversifying your pleasures, for example by doing yoga. May this mindful meditation on your breath be the key to bliss ("ananda" in Sanskrit)!