Ever heard the term trunk muscles? These are the muscles of the torso that control movement from your spine to your chest and abdominals. The diaphragm, one of the main trunk muscles, often goes unnoticed, even though it performs a very important function; the diaphragm draws air into the lungs and is necessary for respiration (i.e., breathing).
But when you start to pay attention to your diaphragm, when you start to practice more involved breathing techniques, you can achieve a sense of balance that will keep you centered, less stressed and more in sync with your body overall. You can start by trying these three exercises recommended by breathing expert Dr. Alison McConnell, author of the book Breathe Strong Perform Better. Don’t be surprised if you start to feel more balanced and less stressed right away.
Although McConnell’s book describes very detailed breathing techniques to enhance athletic performance, her basic technique involves taking deep, slow breaths for ten minutes while keeping one hand on your chest, and one hand on your abdomen. The goal is to achieve six to ten breaths per minute for ten minutes, which McConnell explains will lower heart rate and blood pressure.
Nadi Shodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing
The Chopra Center gives a very detailed description of this meditative breathing exercise, said to engage the mind while relieving you of stress and anxiety. Cover the right nostril and inhale through the left nostril. Then cover the left nostril and exhale through the right nostril. Continue this pattern for a few more full breaths to start to feel more awake.
The 4-7-8 Exercise, or Relaxing Breathing
This exercise—believe it or not—may be a little more awkward than the abdominal and nostril breathing exercises described above. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, pioneer and global thought leader on integrative medicine, the more often you practice this technique, the more effective it becomes in combating tension and overcoming sleep trouble.
To start, press the tip of your tongue against the back of your upper teeth. Take one exhale through your mouth while making a swooshing sound, then close your mouth and inhale through your nose for four counts and hold your breath for seven counts. Exhale through your mouth completely, making the swooshing sound for eight counts. Got all that? You’ve just completed one full breath.
Repeat this pattern for three more cycles while keeping your tongue in the same position behind your upper teeth. Keep at it and you’ll find your Zen soon enough!
Practicing any combination of these breathing exercises should help you find balance in your day-to-day life, but start off slow. Try one exercise for a couple of weeks and graduate to two, then three.
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