This article was written by Amanda Tripp, a certified Yoga Tune Up® Teacher, with classes and workshops in Ontario Canada
If you’re not breathing, you’re not living. Literally.
And if you’re not breathing well, you’re not living as well as you could be.
If you pay attention to your breath, you can learn a lot about how you’re taking life in. The breath is an amazing instrument for reporting the state of your internal weather systems. Take a moment to close your eyes and observe your breath. How would you describe your current internal weather? Calm, warm sunny skies? High winds and thunder showers? Once you’ve answered the question, read on.
Your breath is the link between your conscious and unconscious mind. Amazingly, by taking control of your breath you can exert a measure of control over the state of your mind and emotions—you can control the weather inside!
If you are living in a state of chronic stress, your breath is likely shallow, rapid and clipped. You can actually choose to use shallow rapid breathing to induce a state of stress and anxiety, shifting your nervous system into fight or flight mode (sympathetic nervous system dominance).
Go ahead, try it—but—you don’t want to live your life breathing this way! When the sympathetic nervous system dominates, adrenaline goes surging through the blood stream overtaxing your systems, putting you on edge and impeding the body’s ability to repair itself.
Conversely, you can address states of stress and anxiety by breathing deeply into the belly. This down-regulates the nervous system (activating the parasympathetic nervous system) and stimulates the body’s relaxation response. When the parasympathetic nervous system dominates the body heals and repairs itself and the mental/emotional weather pattern is calm and still.
If you’ve been around the yoga block a few times, you will no doubt have heard the instruction to ‘breathe into your belly’—and that direction may have had you stumped. After all, your abdomen doesn’t have lungs (they’re housed up in your rib cage)—so how could you possibly breathe into your belly?
The answer lies in your diaphragm. The relaxed diaphragm is shaped like a dome that attaches to the inner surface of the lower six ribs, the lumbar vertebrae and the xyphoid process. It has a completely unique shape, location and function. The diaphragm separates the contents of your rib cage (lungs and heart) from the contents of your abdomen (organs). And while most other muscles exist to create movement across joints, the diaphragm’s job is to create breath.
When the diaphragm’s muscle fibers contract, it increases the volume of the thoracic cavity (area inside the rib cage). This creates a vacuum—and air rushes into the lungs to fill the empty space (that’s an inhalation).
The contracted diaphragm is pulled downward into the abdominal cavity, causing the belly to swell as it gently presses against your abdominal organs.
On exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes, the lungs deflate and it ‘domes’ back up inside the rib cage. As it domes up, the pressure is off the organs and the belly softens and sinks back. In belly breathing, you simply tune in to the continuous rise and fall of the belly, caused by the movement of the diaphragm. It’s demonstrated in this video clip below:
About the Author
It was love at first Sun Salutation for Amanda Tripp …who was introduced to yoga as a teen when her mom brought home a video. Eventually, she sought out living, breathing teachers to help direct and deepen her practice. Her teachers have been inspirational; her yoga practice: transformational. Amanda felt the call to share the healing benefits of practice with others and completed a 250-hour teacher training program at the Yoga Centre of Burlington. Continuing studies led her to the work of Jill Miller and certification as a Yoga Tune Up® teacher. Amanda’s classes speak to the body, breath, mind and heart as she guides students toward greater ease of being.