04 Apr THE DIAPHRAGM AND STRESS
There are basically two functional types of breathing: cleansing and energising. Cleansing breath helps to detoxify the body and stresses exhalation, while energising breath collects and stores vital energy and focuses more on inhalation.
Though people take breathing for granted, everyone unconsciously practises both types of breath spontaneously throughout the day, whenever toxins in the bloodstream reach a critical level or energy is running low. Thus, a sigh is a spontaneous cleansing breath, for it involves a quick inhalatory gulp followed by a long, forceful exhalation. By contrast, a yawn is a spontaneous, energising breath – a long, slow, deep inhalation, briefly retained in the lungs, followed by a relatively short exhalation.
Breathing may be controlled either mentally or physically and is the only vital function that straddles the border of voluntary and involuntary control. Left unattended, breathing occurs as spontaneously and naturally as a heartbeat; when controlled by the mind, breathing becomes as deliberate as walking and can be made to regulate all other functions, including pulse, blood pressure, digestion, ejaculation, hormone secretion and so forth.
THE DIAPHRAGM AND THE BREATH
What distinguishes ordinary shallow breathing from deep abdominal breathing is the role played by the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a resilient yet flexible muscular membrane that separates the chest from the abdominal cavity. When the lungs expand, they push the diaphragm downwards; when they contract they pull it up into the chest cavity.
Though most Western physicians still regard the diaphragm as being a relatively unimportant muscle that is only passively involved in respiration, a cursory glance at nature reveals the fact that humans were meant to breathe primarily with the diaphragm, not with the ribcage and clavicles.
‘It is the most powerful muscle in our body; it acts like a perfect force-pump … we have only to visualise the surface area of the diaphragm to accept the fact that it acts like another heart.’
Owing to laziness, ignorance and other factors, adults these days invariably become shallow chest-breathers rather than the deep abdominal breathers we were built to be. Chest-breathing employs the intercostal muscles between the ribs to forcibly expand the upper ribcage, thereby lowering air pressure in the chest so that air enters by suction. However, this leaves the lower lungs, which contain by far the greatest surface area, immobilised. Consequently, you need to take about three times as many chest-breaths in order to get the same quantity of air into the lungs as provided by a single diaphragmatic breath.
THE ANTI-STRESS BREATH
In my book ‘Mind Body Cleanse’ (Penguin Books), I provide a 3-Month Breathing Practice that helps to quieten your mind so you can feel, and then release, the tension stored in your gut and other places in your body. These unconscious tensions, which can become knots along the abdominal muscles or a restricted diaphragm prevents you from taking full, deep breaths. This can perpetuate gut issues and other body-wide health problems.
Sit in a comfortable cross-legged or kneeling position. If you are sitting, place a yoga block under your behind so that you are half on and half off it.
Each day you work through the whole sequence. Allow your natural breath to settle before you start.
Visualise the air flowing into your abdomen x 24
Alternate the method of filling and emptying the lungs – whichever feels more comfortable for you.
THE BENEFITS OF BREATHING WITH THE DIAPHRAGM
Deep diaphragmatic breathing saturates the bloodstream with fresh supplies of oxygen, while purging it of carbon dioxide. I prescribe a Three-Month Breathing Course for anyone who has Stress and Anxiety, gut problems, such as IBS, or has difficulty digesting food. The breathing practices are best done daily at the same time of day, preferably 30 minutes before you eat.
FOLLOW CJMB ON SOCIAL MEDIA:
For your top tips on creating optimal health and top tips to help you manage stress in the mind and body, read Chris James new book –‘Mind Body Cleanse’ by Chris James (Penguin Vermilion, £14.99). Available from Amazon.