Body Resources: Breath

There’s breathing, and then there’s breathing.

Most of us breathe just enough to get along. This shallow, upper lung breath uses only about one-third of our lung capacity. It keeps us alive and woven into the fabric of all breathing creatures and objects, but that’s about it.

And then there’s deep breathing, which utilizes the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle that forms the floor of the chest cavity and the ceiling of the abdominal cavity. Expanding down toward the pelvis and contracting back up to the ribs, the diaphragm draws air into the lungs and expels it. Watch a baby sleep, and you’ll see her belly rising and falling. That’s diaphragm breathing. Not only does the diaphragm draw air into the chest, it directly or indirectly massages the stomach, liver, pancreas, intestines and kidneys.

Deep breathing connects us to our deeper selves, and it increases the efficiency of our organs and systems, helps to balance emotion and reduce stress, and can neutralize negative emotions and increase available energy. And it feels good.

Making the transition from shallow to deep breathing can be very frustrating. We’re trained to favor tight pulled-in bellies. I have felt, and heard from others, the sensation of a band dividing the upper and lower bodies. This “band” blocks diaphragm breath, and restricts us to the upper third of the lungs. But patience and practice can dissolve the band and increase mental clarity, health and pleasure.