Our breath is an important the link between body and mind because the way we breathe directly reflects our mental and emotional state. When in a state of panic, we breathe high up in the top of the chest, visibly gasping for air. When depressed, our breath is shallower with long gaps in between. Different ways of breathing use different muscle combinations. When anxious, excited or busy, we breathe using mainly chest and shoulder muscles. If this is prolonged, it can create tightness in the neck and back. But, when deeply relaxed, we breathe predominantly with the diaphragm while our chest remains still and relaxed.
Fortunately, for the purposes of self-regulation, the relationship runs both ways. This means that we can induce relaxation through diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing). By breathing as if we were deeply relaxed, we begin to feel deeply relaxed.
Technique (10-20 mins per day):
Lay on your back with knees slightly bent [This removes the need for postural adjustment while you learn the technique but later you can do belly breathing in any position]. Let your belly go up when you breathe in and down when you breathe out. Check that your chest (above the breasts) is NOT moving at the same time. For belly breathing to work, we want no movement in the upper chest. You can place a hand above the breast to check that the upper chest muscles are not contracting.
After a few minutes, check that your breathing is soft, smooth, and long. Make sure you are breathing OUT fully. See if you can make the inhalation change to exhalation and back in a smooth, slow manner. There is no holding of the breath, no sound, no effort.
At first, your diaphragm may be tight so you might feel as if you cannot get enough air. Take a few big belly breaths to stretch the diaphragm. Your belly will protrude out as you take a big breath. Just let it fall back down naturally on the out breath.
Belly breathing should feel like a wave gently rising and falling. It will be quiet, unforced, and smooth. If you can hear yourself making breathing noises, you are trying too hard. Aim to make the in and out breath the same length. Take some time to count the in and out breath so that you can adjust them to be the same length.
Then, do nothing. Just belly breathe.
As your practice develops, your belly breath will get longer and smoother as your diaphragm gradually stretches. You will probably hear when your autonomic nervous system (ANS) switches digestion back on as your intestines will make gurgling noises. This is a good sign.