Bodywork that's more than skin deep

Massage therapy is just one part of a healing regimen. Yoga or daily stretching and breathing exercises are key elements in preventing injury, reducing stress and maintaining overall health. They extend the benefits of massage treatments! A balanced diet, exercise, plenty of water and laughter are also important aspects in a healthy lifestyle.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Diaphragmatic Breathing Helps Heal Anxiety

Breathing is essential to life and we need oxygen in our bodies to live. However, most of us do not realize that we are taking shallow breaths that deny us the oxygen our bodies need to operate optimally. One way to remedy this is by practicing a deep-breathing technique called diaphragmatic breathing. We can use this very simple, yet powerful practice to help relieve stress and ease muscular tension.

Doing deep diaphragmatic breathing can help relieve muscular tension around the thoracic area, the back, the shoulders and the neck.  It will also help stretch out the important umbrella-shaped muscle, the diaphragm.

The diaphragm is attached to the inner surface of the ribcage and has a central tendon that attaches to the connective tissue surrounding the lungs. This diaphragmatic tendon is directly connected to our ability to inhale fresh oxygen into the lungs. When you take a deep breath into your abdomen, your diaphragm's muscle fibers contract and pull this central tendon down. This creates a vacuum in the top part of the chest cavity "pulling" air into your lungs. When you exhale, this relaxes the diaphragm and central tendon allowing the lungs to deflate. When both your abdomen and the lower half of your ribcage are expanding, you are correctly stretching the diaphragm.  Think about your ribcage inflating in all three dimensions. 

This particular deep breathing method is key because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the "rest and digest" part of the nervous system.   The parasympathetic response creates a feeling of relaxation and promotes digestion and also helps bring larger amounts of oxygen to all the muscle tissues in the body.  Diaphragmatic breathing helps anxiety disorders, hyperventilation, hiccups and stuttering.  I encourage the use of this type of deep breathing in my massage treatments to help my client go more deeply into a relaxed state.  I especially use this breathing approach on clients when performing diaphragmatic release, a targeted massage technique.  It's an intense but very effective method for people who experience high levels of anxiety and have trouble breathing.

Try the following diaphragmatic exercise if you're feeling anxious or feeling like you're not getting enough air into your lungs. 

-Lay down in a comfortable position on your back. Use a pillow under your knees for more comfort.
-Place one hand on your belly and the other on your solar plexus.
-Take a slow relaxing deep breath in through your nose.  Inhale deeply into your belly.
-Be aware of your abdomen and ribcage expanding and inflating like a balloon. 
-Once you've reached the extent of your inhalation, exhale slowly through your mouth.  Be sure your lips are slightly closed to allow your exhalation to be slow but relaxed. Exhale all your air completely.
-Repeat for 5-10 minutes, or longer if desired.