Health Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing
By Caryn Gehlmann
Do you know how to breathe? Of course, you breathe unconsciously every day, and that can actually be the challenge. We don’t think about how we breathe, yet there are amazing health benefits of diaphragmatic breathing. Let’s explore this topic and learn how the right essential oil can help you to get even more health benefits out of diaphragmatic breathing.
Shallow Breathing vs. Deep Breathing
Did you know that breathing is the only autonomic nervous system function under our control? Our autonomic nervous system can be divided into two systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. These two systems manage the same group of body functions, but they have very distinct jobs. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) gets your body ready for intense physical activity, often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) relaxes your body and inhibits or slows high energy functions. It’s more of a “rest and digest” response.
By modulated your breath, you can activate either SNS (fight/flight) or PNS (relaxation). Think about how you breathe when you’re frightened or under high stress? Most of us take quick, shallow breaths. It’s our body’s way of getting us ready for fight or flight. The problem is, many of us are under some kind of chronic stress, which means we could be unconsciously creating a SNS loop. We’re stressed so we use shallow upper chest breathing, we’re breathing shallowly so our brain interprets that as trouble and we end up feeling more stressed! You could end up feeling like you’re on a treadmill that you can’t hop off of, it’s exhausting, and far from healthy over the long-term.
The good news is you can activate your PNS system with deep, diaphragmatic breathing. Think about how you breathe when you’re incredibly relaxed — usually you take long, slow breaths. You have the power to flip the switch over to your PNS system! Diaphragmatic breathing, basically slow abdominal breathing, signals your brain that you’re safe, and your body can let its guard down. It doesn’t require long, just a few minutes of deep breathing can make a difference!
How to Experience the Health Benefit of Diaphragmatic Breathing a.k.a. Belly Breathing
Feeling less stressed is an obvious benefit of diaphragmatic breathing. However, it goes deeper than that. Studies are showing that slow, deep breathing can potentially lead to decreases in heart rate and blood pressure, muscle relaxation, improved digestion, improved sleep, anti-inflammatory effects, and enhanced mood.
There are different techniques people use in diaphragmatic breathing. The key is to take deep, slow breaths, visualize filling up the lower part of your lungs just above your belly button like a balloon, and then exhale slowly.
Personally, I use this simple 3-step process for deep breathing…
Inhale…Bring yourself into the awareness of the present moment.
Pause….Enjoy the stillness.
Why You May Want to Include Essential Oils With Diaphragmatic Breathing
Did you know that when you inhale an essential oil you are more likely to take a deeper breath, thus shifting more naturally from SNS to PNS? Essential oils can also provide an additional layer of calmness and serenity. By choosing a scent that you personally love, as you inhale, you’re adding to the relaxing benefits of diaphragmatic breathing. So take some time to explore different scents, and find the essential oil that elicits that “Ahhhhh” response. You’ll know it when you feel it, your whole body will respond!
Now you may be wondering how to integrate essential oils into diaphragmatic breathing. You can add your scent to a cotton ball or tissue, use an aromatherapy inhaler, or apply to your wrist using a roll-on, to give yourself a deep breathing break throughout the day. Some favorite e3 blends for diaphragmatic breathing include Meditate, Serenity, and Peace. However, everyone is different so it’s important to “listen to your nose”, which basically means paying close attention to how your body responds to different scents.
If you want to explore aromatherapy and how to benefit from it, download a free copy of our ebook, Listen to Your Nose: An Introduction to Aromatherapy.