Just Breathe!

Life gets busy, and it can often be stressful. While we cannot always change the things happening around us, we can help control how our body responds to these stressors by adding some breath work to your daily routine. Don’t panic! You don’t have to lie on a yoga mat on the floor in a candle lit room (yep – I get that’s not everyone’s jam!) to reap the benefits.

Here’s a fun fact: the pattern we use with our breathing can impact our nervous system, and in turn impact how we feel! When we perform slow, deep breathing we activate our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), sometimes referred to as our “rest and digest” system. This system helps relax our body after periods of stress and danger. Sometimes, if we’re experiencing ongoing pain or life stresses, we have difficulty turning our PNS on, and we may spend too much time the “fight or flight”/sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This “fight or flight” (SNS) is necessary for safety and survival, but if we spend too much time in this system, it can be quite straining on our bodies.

Breathe… To Calm Your Body’s “Fight or Flight” Response to Pain or Stress

To start, find a comfortable position (standing, sitting, lying down) and just take note of how you are breathing. Are you expanding your belly/lower ribs, or does most of the movement happen in your upper chest and shoulders? When you inhale does your abdomen expand or are you sucking it in? What we are looking for is minimal movement in the upper chest/shoulders, and expansion of the ribs/abdomen when we take a breath in. If you are breathing quickly, see if you can slow it down a little. Be sure to use a rate that feels comfortable to you.

If you want, you can even close your eyes and visualize areas on your body relaxing, perhaps letting go of any extra tension with each exhalation. You may even say something like “I am” when you are inhaling/expanding your ribs/abdomen, and then say “calm” (or really whatever you WANT to be!) when you exhale (allowing your abdomen to return to its normal shape). If you have the time, spend 5-10 minutes practicing this. Try not to let your mind wander off to what you might need to do after this practice and try to be in the moment.

Once you have the patterning down, try to add this activity frequently throughout your day. Breathing like this for just a minute, regularly during your day can really make a big difference – so go ahead and give it a try. If you want to practice this technique with a skilled Saunders physical therapist, and learn a few more helpful tips, please give us a call so we can help you feel your best!

By Shannon Burrows, PT MSc

Man Breathing in Supine