Abdominal breathing is the most efficient and natural way to breath. It’s great to watch dogs, cats and children sleeping and watching their little abdomens expanding and contracting with the breath – it’s nature – how we are all meant to breathe. However, it’s a technique that is forgotten by most of us by the time we reach adulthood.
Tense abdominal muscles can be the result of continually holding the tummy in, tight clothing, poor posture, back ache or emotional issues. All of which are often totally unconscious. Once correct, natural breathing is restored and becomes part of your daily life improvements in health and wellbeing can be quite amazing.
As breathing is the most vital process of the body, even slight improvements can give benefits to the practitioner. The breath influences the activities of each and every cell, and is intimately linked to the performance of the brain. Abdominal breathing is a preparatory practice for Pranayama (control of the life force) and encourages correct breathing. Slow, rhythmic breathing brings about a calm state of mind, which in turn calms the nervous system and leads to less stress in the body. Deep breathing in this manner increases absorption of energy into the body and keeps the heart healthy and strong.
We practice abdominal breathing by enhancing the movement of the diaphragm and minimising the movement of the ribcage. I think it helps to visualise the air moving into the body through the nose and travelling down into the abdomen (this does not really happen) and then visualise the air travelling back up through the torso and out through the nose. This movement allows full use of the diaphragm and the lower lobes of the lungs to fill and empty (the parts that don’t get used fully when the diaphragm can’t move).
Try practicing at different times of the day – when you have a little time waiting for something or when you are in bed last thing at night or first thing in the morning. Also try this type of breath in more difficult circumstances – say after a meal or when wearing a tight waist band, it will help you to appreciate where you are making life difficult for yourself! And finally, try this abdominal breathing when you are in a stressful situation and see if it works to reduce your anxiety.