Updated: Mar 29, 2020
We all know how to breathe to keep us alive, but many of us don't know how to or don't practice proper deep breathing that aids complete body relaxation. Due to us living in a fast paced, high stress society - most of us (me included!) tend to breathe taking shallow breaths high up in our chests. But.. this means the key breath muscle of our core - the diaphragm - is really underutilised. Instead we rely too much on the accessory muscles of respiration in our neck and shoulders the move the collarbones, sternum and ribcage to allow the lungs to expand. In evolutionary terms, these accessory muscles are only meant to be used to assist the diaphragm when we really need some extra oxygen in our lungs - trying to sprint away from someone hunting us down! But typically in our lives today, we still focus on these muscles whether we're sitting still and not legging it away from a predator! When we overuse these accessory muscles they become tight.
For most general life situations, calm, diaphragmatic breathing is just what we need to meet our breathing needs. So I'm going to remind you how to breathe this way and also how to feel the connection of the pelvic floor (the bottom or 'floor' of your inner core) with the diaphragm (the top or 'ceiling' or your inner core). Which is why I refer to it as core breathing - as I want you to feel a mind - body connection with the different parts of your core and not just the diaphragm. See this image below that demonstrates how the breath drives a synergy within the core.
You're going to ask me now - where is the bit about weight loss?! How can breathing make me lose weight? Worry, stress and anxiety for prolonged periods of time release excess cortisol and insulin upsetting our hormonal balance and can contribute to weight gain - particularly around the stomach, and reduces your capacity to burn calories. In evolutionary terms this means your body is in panic mode so wants to hold on to its fat and energy reserves for survival reasons. So deep, core breathing will help to reduce stress and anxiety, which in turn switches your body back to burning fat and calories! Also, your body needs oxygen for digestive processes and for your metabolism. The more oxygen you have, or the better you breathe, the better and more efficient your metabolism (and calorie burn). This is why you probably find that when you go on holiday and are less stressed, despite eating more - you can lose weight!
So I really would like you to practice some deep core breathing. Ideally taking some breath breaks throughout the day or when you are feeling stressed. Time it with a trip to the toilet - a 30 second breath break will not only help you feel better, breathe better but may also help you to go to the loo (think relaxation of the pelvic floor)! Or as a minimum, practice some deep breathing before you go to sleep - this will help you relax, switch off, sleep better and burn some calories whilst you snooze.
Core breathing exercise:
Sitting comfortably or lying down, and relax your shoulders.
Put your hands just below your belly button.
Inhale deeply and feel the air travel down in to your lower ribcage and belly - see and feel the gentle outward expansion, to the sides and to your back. Breathing into your bra band sometimes helps!
You should feel your fingers more apart as the air builds up within your abdomen.
Can you feel a gentle downward movement on the pelvic floor? Allow it to happen, don't push it down, just let it move down with the movement of air.
Then slowly exhale through your mouth - like you are blowing through a straw, and allow your stomach to return to its starting position. Can you feel your pelvic floor gently lifting as the air and pressure inside you abdomen decreases?
A great visual is to imagine there is a balloon inside your tummy. As you breathe in the balloon inflates, pressing gently on to your tummy, back, sideways into your ribs and down to your pelvic floor. And as you exhale, the balloon deflates completely.
Keep breathing in and out - releasing tension and tightness with each breath. Your upper chest and shoulders should be fairly still.
Here is a video on abdominal breathing (not my own) but I do love it and find it really relaxing to watch! A great visual too!