bellies are for breathing
I have a hiatal hernia. Which I know sounds kind of gross and it is, but it's also sort of common. Hernias are actually these "rude" occurrences when internal body parts start pushing into places they don't belong, like that guy on the airplane who is all gigantic laptop, briefcase and elbows and totally invading our space, except instead of a 3 hour flight with this guy we get to carry him around with us ... well like forever maybe.
The hiatus is an opening in the diaphragm. A hiatal hernia is when the stomach bulges up into the chest cavity through that opening.
Doctors tell us the symptoms of a hiatal hernia include stuff like heartburn and acid reflux, damage to the esophagus that can be pretty terrifying to think about
and the causes are things like picking up something heavy (check - note to self: avoid taking on too much), poor eating habits (check - research gut health), pregnancy (check - totally worth it ... most of the time) but although all these things are real things I think what really caused my hiatal hernia was a lifetime of shallow breathing.
Shallow breathing that weakened my diaphragm (and a lifetime of holding in unpleasant emotions that created the shallow breathing - this stuff is all connected).
Shallow breathing contributes to a multitude of health problems for a multitude of people.
One of the things my Soul Scentered Aromatherapy Diffuser Locket has done for me and can do for you is help establish a process to practice belly breathing.
When we breathe deeply (called belly breathing and don't we love that!) - the air coming in through our nose fully fills our lungs and our lower belly moves outward.
The ability to breathe so deeply and powerfully is not limited to yogis! This skill is inborn but often becomes dormant. Reawakening our breath through belly breathing allows us to tap one of our body’s strongest self-healing mechanisms.
Why does breathing deeply seem unnatural to so many people? One reason may be that our culture often rewards us for stifling strong emotions.
Girls and women are expected to rein in our anger. Boys and men are told to man it up and not to cry. What happens when we hold back tears, stifle anger or tiptoe through a fearful situation?
Unconsciously, we begin to hold our breath or breathe irregularly.
Body image affects our breathing, too. A “washboard” stomach (why do we want this anyway - washboards are so last century) considered so attractive in our culture encourages us to constrict our stomach muscles (sucking in our stomach is not a good thing). This adds to tension and anxiety, and gradually makes shallow “chest breathing” feel normal.
The act of breathing engages the diaphragm which is a strong sheet of muscle that divides the chest from the abdomen. As we breathe in, the diaphragm drops down, pulling our lungs along with it and pressing against our abdominal organs to make room for our lungs to expand as they fill with air. As we breathe out, the diaphragm presses back upward against our lungs, helping to expel carbon dioxide.
Shallow breathing hobbles the diaphragm. The lowest portion of the lungs — which is where many small blood vessels instrumental in carrying oxygen to cells reside — never gets a full share of oxygenated air. That can make us feel short of breath and anxious. Over time this literally depletes our life force!
Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide.
This type of breathing slows the heartbeat and can lower or stabilize blood pressure. It allows us to take in more of life - it allows us to release the stuff we need to let go of!
Here’s how to take a deep, healing, diaphragmatic breath:
First steps. Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit or lie down. Observe your breath. First take a normal breath.
Now try taking a slow, deep breath. The air coming in through your nose should move downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out through your mouth (or your nose if that feels more natural).
(when I first started this practice I was so backward in my body the deep breathing actually felt more constrictive and anxiety provoking to me - if it feels like this to you, too, it might take some time to retrain your muscles with this - we may have spent a lifetime taking little breaths and asking our body to start pulling in more can be a little frightening, but if I can do it you can, too and you will see this "pulling in more" space open up all kinds of things for you in your life!)
Alternate normal and deep breaths several times. Pay attention to how you feel when you inhale and exhale normally and when you breathe deeply. Shallow breathing often feels tense and constricted, while deep breathing produces relaxation.
Now practice diaphragmatic breathing for several minutes. Put one hand on your abdomen, just below your belly button. Feel your hand rise about an inch each time you inhale and fall about an inch each time you exhale. Your chest will rise slightly, too, in connection with your abdomen. Remember to relax your belly so that each inhalation expands it fully.
Breath focus in practice. Once we’ve taken the steps above, we can start a regular practice of breath focus.
As we sit comfortably with our eyes closed, blend our breathing with helpful imagery and a focus word or phrase that will help us relax. I use the word CALM. Imagine the air we breathe in washes peace and calm into our body.
As we breathe out imagine that the air leaving our body carries tension and anxiety with it. This is not woo-woo hocus-pocus, but incredibly powerful work that can change your life!
As we inhale, try saying this phrase to yourself: “Breathing in peace and calm.” And as you exhale, say: “Breathing out tension and anxiety.” 10 minutes of breath focus is a reasonable goal in the beginning. Gradually add time until your sessions are about 15 to 20 minutes long.
Knowing, feeling and expressing all our emotions - love and joy and also fear and anger - is good for our health. Emotion comes from the Latin word meaning "to move".
Belly breathing is one physical way we keep our emotions moving and our life fresh and new!