What happens when you breathe deeply?
Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is a skill that many of us have lost. To know what it’s like to really breathe deeply, take a minute out and observe a baby and what happens when they breathe. Their whole belly rises and falls with each breath, rather than just the chest. Now have a look at how most adults breathe - you rarely see the belly moving much at all, and if it does, it’s usually just the upper portions, rather than the whole abdomen. But this is a skill that could be highly important to get back in touch with.
As we’ve aged in this modern world, we’ve lost the instinct to breathe deeply. But there are many benefits from taking in deep breaths, and conversely, shallow breathing can be doing us harm (Mayo Clinic, 2017). Shallow breathing can create a cycle of stress in our bodies, where breathing shallowly makes us feel stressed, and then feeling stressed makes us breathe more shallowly.
And over the long term shallow breathing and chronic stress can have an impact on our immune systems (Vassilakopoulos et al., 2004; Mayo Clinic, 2017). It can lead to lower levels of white blood cells in our system, which help our body defend itself from invading bacteria and viruses. This can then set up a situation where we’re at higher risk of catching acute illnesses like the common cold, flu, or stomach bugs.
Shallow breathing uses the accessory breathing muscles of the chest, neck and shoulders, rather than the diaphragm, which can in turn lead to tighter muscles through this area, causing neck pain, headaches, and a greater risk of injuries.
And breathe deep…
Breathing deeply on the other hand has many health promoting benefits. It can lower your blood pressure, reduce your heart rate, decrease stress by lowering cortisol levels, and relaxes your muscles (Healthline, 2019; Mayo Clinic, 2017).
And you can see the benefits immediately. Taking a few minutes out of your day to focus on breathing deeply will have you feeling calmer instantly. So go on, breathe!
Lachlan McDonald is an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist in Essendon. He has a special interest in working with patients with mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, general stress, and sleep disorders. To make an appointment, you can book online here, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the clinic on 9337 8572.
Healthline (2019). What is diaphragmatic breathing? [Online] Available at:https://www.healthline.com/health/diaphragmatic-breathing
Mayo Clinic (2019). Decrease stress by using your breath. [Online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/decrease-stress-by-using-your-breath/art-20267197
Vassilakopoulos, T., Roussos, C. & Zakynthinos, S. (2004). The immune response to resistive breathing. European Respiratory Journal, 24(6), 1033-1043.