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The Power of Breath: How Just Breathing From Your Stomach Can Change The Way You Feel.

Updated on December 4, 2016
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Jody has been a massage therapist since 2003. She loves being able to share her experience in alternative healing modalities to help others.

How Do You Breathe?

If you are like most people you probably don’t pay much attention to it unless you are having problems. But what would you notice if you did? What does your body do when you breathe? How does it make you feel? These are questions that only you have the answer to. If you would like to know more about how a simple thing like breathing, that is normally taken for granted, can affect so many things in our lives.

Why Does It Matter?

You may be thinking “This person is nuts, what does breathing have to do with anything other than making just I’m still alive?”, but just think for a moment about some of the simple saying that we say without really thinking about them. “I’m so nervous I could die.” “I just need to get some fresh air.” Somebody is “full of hot air”. Have you ever been told, or told someone else, to “just breathe”? All of these saying have one thing in common, breath. Have you ever been really nervous about something? Did your heart start beating fast and you started feeling short of breath? Did you feel lightheaded and shaky? Did someone tell you to “just breathe” and you started taking deep breaths and started to feel better. Maybe your nervousness didn’t vanish but it probably calmed enough that you were able to take control and do what you had to do. This is just one example of the power of breath.

Scary Thought

Did you know that shortly after starting school most kids, especially if they are overweight or think they are, stop taking deep breaths. It also seems to be worse with those who have low self-esteem. This is usually done to appear skinnier so they won’t get teased for being “fat”. Unfortunately most never learn how to breathe properly again. This can lead to a whole host of problems, but most especially digestive problems. And that can lead to even more problems; the list goes on and on, one triggering another.

Okay, How Does It Work?

As we learned in school, our lungs expand when we inhale and contract when we exhale. But it goes a little farther than that. Did you know that our lungs are not just one big bag; they are in fact made up of tiny little pockets that are connected to different bronchial tubes. This is why it is possible to still breathe well even if part of a lung is removed. It is also why it’s possible to feel like we are getting enough air when we are only actually using the top third of our lungs to breathe with. If you sit down somewhere and just watch people as they are standing around talking, or even those sitting, you will probably notice something startling. Their stomachs don’t move when they breathe! You will probably notice this with the majority of people, because they have trained themselves to breathe that way. They are not using their whole lung when they breathe. Now look at kids from infants to those just before they are old enough to start school. When all of them breathe their stomachs move. This is because when we take deep breaths our diaphragm contracts which causes it to flatten out pushing our rib cage out (increasing the volume in our chest cavity for the lungs to fill and creating a vacuum effect in the lungs) and pushing down into our abdomen pressing against the organs there and causing them to push out because they can only squish so much. When we exhale our diaphragm relaxes, which lets the rib cage spring back to it's normal state and helps push the air out of our lungs; and when it does our guts go back to where they were as well. You can feel this by pressing your fingers slightly under your rib cage and taking deep breaths.

Why Is It Important?

When we take deep breaths it massages our digestive tract and aids in digestion and elimination. The deeper we breathe the more oxygen we get in our blood streams and the more carbon dioxide and toxins are released from it as well. The more oxygen that is in our blood the more oxygen our brains get and the better we can think and remember things. The more deep breaths we take the more energy we have and the better we feel because we are getting rid of built up toxins through our breath. The lungs are one of the largest eliminatory organs in the body. You wouldn’t want trash piling up in your house, so why would you want it in your body? Breathing is one way we get rid of the “trash” in our bodies. Also when we don’t belly breathe it triggers the fight or flight instinct. Guess what happens then. Yep, the body shuts down what it doesn’t need to fight or run away. What’s the first thing to go? You got it, the digestive system. Hmm, could that be why so many people have digestive problems, from acid reflux and heartburn to IBS and constipation? I definitely would say that is at least part of the cause. We live in such a high stress world that our brains are constantly telling our bodies that we need to either fight or run away. No wonder our bodies are yelling at us and antacids are one of the biggest selling drugs in the country if not the world.

Questions To Ask Yourself

What is the color of your balloon? What differences do you feel in your body? Has your energy level changed? What differences do you notice after taking deep healing belly breaths for one week? For two weeks?

How Do I Fix It?

Even if we only took ten deep belly breaths every day it can do amazing things for our bodies and our minds. But how do we do it you ask? It’s both very easy and very hard. The good news is that the more you do it the easier it is until you don’t even have to think about it. The bad news is that, at first, it can be very hard to do and sometimes frustrating. Here is one of the easiest ways I have found to learn. You can do this anywhere, having your eyes open is optional but I would recommend keeping them open if you are practicing while in traffic.

· Imagine that there is a glass tube that connects the back of your throat to a balloon in your abdomen.

· When you inhale the air, it goes directly into the balloon causing your stomach to expand and then filling up your chest making your ribs expand as well.

· When you exhale, the balloon shrinks and your belly and ribs go back to the way they were.

· Inhale again feeling your balloon grow and exhale feeling it shrink again.

· Now imagine all your stress blowing away like dust in the wind each time you exhale.

When you do this your shoulders should hardly move. I have found that it is easiest to make sure this doesn’t happen by concentrating on the movement of the stomach and ribs and just let your shoulders sit there like a rock on the lid of a barrel. Looking in a mirror can be helpful for some but a hindrance for others. It can also be helpful to jot down notes in a book as to how you feel before and after taking a series of deep breaths. You can also note if you have any health problems, headaches to IBS and everything in between, and see how they change. If you want some help, take some classes in qigong, tai chi, or yoga. All of these will help you learn the art of focused deep breathing. But healthy breathing can be done anywhere at any time. You can do it while sitting at a stop light waiting for it to change colors or while vacuuming the floor or doing dishes, the possibilities are endless. Breathing deeply is one of the best self-help tricks I have ever found.

How do you feel after taking 10 deep breaths as described above?

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    • jacope profile image

      jacope 3 years ago from Missoula, MT

      I have not heard of that before. If you have ever had any kind of abdominal surgery or injury (or one in the lower part of your body) it could be adhesions that are constricting or impinging the vagus nerve that runs through the abdomen. It is used to affect the parasympathetic nervous system specifically. Abdominal massage is one way that is very effective at removing adhesions in this area.

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      Akshay 3 years ago

      Thanks for the nice article. I am suffering from a weird problem since 2 yrs . I had been doing belly breathing since long but suddenly 2 yrs back an odd feeling started coming up . When I do belly breathing something at the corner of my stomach causes a weird feeling like butterflies in stomach . Something very similar but not exactly explainable. And it is inducable . As in I can bring it on my own . There seem to be 2 ways of breathing ... one which gives a calming satisfactory sensation and other which gives this unsettling feeling which further leads to requiring me to breathe heavier . Its lije inducing anxiety within my stomach . What is this exactly . Its been troubling me since long now . Please help .

    • jacope profile image

      jacope 3 years ago from Missoula, MT

      Thanks for visiting Lala. :)

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      lala 3 years ago

      oh ya!!

    • jacope profile image

      jacope 3 years ago from Missoula, MT

      Thank you Devyani for the comment. What is The Art of Living's 'Happiness Program' that you are talking about?

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      Devyani Sharma 3 years ago

      All should try The Art of Living's 'Happiness Program', I learnt incredible breathing techniques to harness 100% of my lung capacity, one of which is Surdarshan Kriya. Feeling energized, rejuvenated and efficient!

    • jacope profile image

      jacope 4 years ago from Missoula, MT

      Thank you Taylor. I had not realized I typed the wrong words in that spot when writing it. I had been having a discussion about that specific function that day and didn't realize I had wrote down the opposite of what I had been thinking when writing and didn't catch it while proof reading either. That make me feel a bit embarrassed, especially with as much work as I have done on the human body every week for the last 11 years. I will certainly be updating it. Thank you again.

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      Taylor 4 years ago

      The diaphragm, in fact, contracts on the inhale, and relaxes on the exhale.

      Source: Isacowitz, R. and Clippinger, K. Pilates Anatomy. 2011: Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. p.5-6.