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This is a blog that attempts to deliver positivity through (hopefully humorous) illustrated tips, stories and cakes. Mostly I am writing advice to myself because I'm really good at being not positive. Hopefully this will inspire me to choose to have more good days than crappy ones. Perhaps it will help you too.

Also, there are no goldfish in this blog.

 

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Sunday
Jun242012

Diaphragmatic Breathing

When I was a kid, I always thought I knew how to breathe. I'd been doing it ever since I was born, so I figured I had it down. The truth was that I was allergic to a vast array of organic matter and this meant that my nose was usually filled with formidable quantities of mucus. This also meant that I was a shameless mouthbreather.

Had Helga Pataki heard me breathing eerily behind her, I likely would have been punched in the face. 

Because I perceived mouth breathing to be normal, it made much of the world very confusing to me. I remember being disturbed by prolonged kisses in movies and television (beyond the fact that prolonged kisses were simply disgusting to me at the time). With your mouth so thoroughly occupied by another person's mouth, how the heck were you supposed to breathe? 

I was also confused with how nitrous oxide was administered at the dentist's office. What was the point of hooking up the laughing gas to my nose instead of my mouth? Better yet, what the point of laughing gas at all? As far as I could tell, it was fairly ineffective.

As I grew out of my allergies, I eventually learned how to breathe through my nose. It was clear that this was a superior way to breathe and I never wanted to go back to mouth breathing again.  

Little did I know that my lessons in learning to breathe properly had yet to be completed.

The first time I took a yoga class, the instructor told us that we should focus on breathing into our bellies instead of our chests. By belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, we'd be using the full expanse of our lungs, resulting in deeper, more calming breaths. So I tried it. And guess what? 

I did not like it. 

I had trained myself to always suck in my gut. Forcing my abdomen out felt awkward and unnecessary. What's worse is that subsequent encounters with deep breathing instruction all required this stupid belly breathing. 

The day it all changed was when I joined a meditation group in college. We were meditating on our breath. If you've read my post on mindfulness meditation, you will know that I am not a fan of focusing on the breath. Meditation can easily slip into overwhelming tedium, and for me, nothing makes this more clear than being conscious of this joyless pattern:

In addition to fighting off my impending boredom, I also couldn't help but feel that I wasn't getting enough air. I don't know why, I was breathing like I always did and yet I still felt a little suffocated. So I decided to try that damned belly breathing. And guess what?

It was working for me! By making a conscious effort to expand and contract my stomach while breathing, I finally felt like I was getting more than enough air. And I've been doing it ever since. Deep breathing is a great way to relax and reduce anxiety. I like to breathe deeply for a bit right before a meditation. It gets me centered and ready. 

If you've never done diaphragmatic breathing before, all you have to do is put your hand on your stomach and try to breathe in a way that will get your hand to rise and fall. It's easier to achieve when you're lying on your back, so I would begin there, newbies.

That said, there a lot of differing opinions on precisely how to perform belly breathing. Whether it's in through the nose and out through the mouth, keeping your chest still, making your inhale twice as long as your exhale, not forcing your body to do anything at all, etc., do your research and figure out what works best for you. If you've never tried diaphragmatic breathing before, give it a go! If you're already a proponent of it, are you engaging in it as you read this? 

Untie those corsets and let your guts hang free, folks! It's time to breathe into your bellies.

I don't think I need to say this, but considering how we live in a stupidly litigious society, let me emphasize that I am not a licensed health care practitioner. The only thing I'm practiced at is spelling my own name and farting inconspicuously when I have company over. I do not claim any specific health effects from doing this type of breathing. If you have any sort of medical conditions that might be affected by this, don't be a dummy! Talk to your doctor before trying breathing exercises out.  

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