Recently I have noticed that the main recommendation I make to my clients during their massage sessions is to bring awareness to the way they breathe. Collectively we forgot. We forgot how to breathe.
Our breath became shallow, quick, and on the upper part of our chest. We often activate our stress response mode and forget how to move back to resting and restoring pace, once the peak is gone.
Breathing from our chest and superficially is a healthy stress response if you have to fly or fight. It is a survival mechanism activated to give our bodies the capacity to run away and escape what we fear. But we should not live in a constant alert mode. We need to remember how to bring our awareness back to the present moment, observe our breathing pattern, and allow ourselves to engage our abdominal breath.
Abdominal breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It supports the body in proper digestion and assimilation of food; in the absorption of adrenaline and cortisol from our bloodstream, allowing our self-healing mechanisms to function properly. This calming breath is sometimes enough to regulate mild sleep disorders and to improve digestion and absorption of nutrients. It also allows cortisol related muscle pain and inflammation to heal and supports better decision making, focus, and clarity.
"Neurologically, humans function on a continuum between sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest). The sympathetic nervous system promotes catabolic tissue breakdown and fat metabolism to mobilize glucose for energy and promote arousal, alertness, motivation, and goal-directed behavior. At the other end of the spectrum, the parasympathetic nervous system promotes healing, repair, immunity, and the anabolic growth required for restored energy reserves and longevity. Needless to say, a delicate balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic activity is critical for long-term physical and psychological health." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4263906
"For many of us, deep breathing seems unnatural. There are several reasons for this. For one, body image has a negative impact on respiration in our culture. A flat stomach is considered attractive, so women (and men) tend to hold in their stomach muscles. This interferes with deep breathing and gradually makes shallow "chest breathing" seem normal, which increases tension and anxiety." https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response
Although stress is an inherent part of life, we can modify our perception to better respond to it. Abdominal breathing is, in my opinion, one of the quickest and always available tools to counteract stress, reducing pain and allowing us to ground and act from a space of clarity.
So, get inspired! Focus on breathing from your belly when you need to calm and cool down your body and mind.
About the Author: Carol Jamault is a Certified Health & Life Coach, Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT), and Registered Yoga Instructor (RYT-200) with a solid background in design and branding. She supports her clients in stress management and self-care through an integrative approach to wellness by providing bodywork services, consultations, and curated information and products to restore balance, improve individual wellness, and to boost vitality. Carol has been studying alternative healing, ethnobotany, circadian medicine, and Ayurveda since 2001. She is the founder of Hridayam Bodywork & Apothecary.