Sunday, December 12, 2010

Are You Belly Breathing?

Sometimes I will run across something and I’ll think, oh that’s interesting, and then I move on to something else. But when I run across the same thing almost immediately from another source, I think, oh this is something I should pay attention to. I didn’t pay attention the first time so it has come to me again.

So here it is. Belly breathing. That means breathing into the lower part of your lungs. This will push your belly out. We’re born breathing that way. Animals breathe that way.

Somewhere along the way many of us become chest breathers, breathing only into the top part of our lungs. Why do we do that? Maybe because we want to keep our tummies flat. Maybe because of stress. Stress causes us to hold our breath. Holding our breath tells our brains that we are in danger and that triggers the release of fight or flight chemicals, very handy if we are actually being attacked, but very damaging over time. Chronic shallow breathing feeds a loop of stress response, actually creating more stress.

Just as shallow breathing contributes to stress, belly breathing promotes relaxation. It tells our brains that we are safe and releases seritonin and endorphins. Deep breathing pumps more oxygen into our blood, which in turn nourishes our muscles and our brains. I’ve read that deep breathing can alleviate pain, anxiety, sleep problems, and depression. It helps us remove toxins and improves the immune system. I didn’t read this anywhere, but I’m hoping it will help me remember where I left the car keys.

One of the sources that recently came to my attention was a presentation to managers about resilience. The presentation focused on scientific study of the different parts of the brain, which links belly breathing with higher brain function. Higher brain function relates to our attention span, judgment, empathy, learning, forethought, optimism, and self-awareness.

In other words, belly breathing will help us quickly get back to and stay in our happy place. So how do we change a habit as basic as how we breathe? Here are some techniques I’ve started using. I’ve added 10 belly breaths to my wake up routine to get my brain turbo charged with oxygen. I begin my morning meditation with a few deep breaths. I also take 10 belly breaths when I go to bed to help me relax and get ready for sleep. I already have my phone set to vibrate at 10am, 2pm, and 6pm as a reminder to say a quick prayer, so it’s easy to take a few deep breaths then as well. And of course any other time when I become aware of shallow breathing, I can shift to belly breathing.

The key is to avoid making this an added stressor! Don’t worry about the times you forget. Give yourself credit for the times you remember. Your body and mind will thank you for every belly breath!

Check out this site for some additional tips!


  1. Hi Galen,

    It's interesting how we sometimes need to run across the same thing twice before it registers in our minds as important.

    I liked how you summarized the benefits of belly breathing from the scientific studies you read. It has given me deeper insights into belly breathing. Do you have the links for the scientific studies btw?

    Taking 10 belly breaths before you wake and sleep and at regular intervals during the day is an easy practice to follow. The more natural and relaxed our attitude towards belly breathing, the easier it is for us to make it a part of our routine.

    Thank you for sharing this article with us! :)

    Irving aka the Vizier

  2. Galen: I am in the same boat as you now, because this is definitely the 4th or 5th time I have had belly breathing recommended to me. It is time to pay attention :) I do see how beneficial it can be though and I really like that approach you shared of starting with it in the morning and ending with it in the day. I think it is also great to integrate it into your daily routine as you suggested. Okay, I am off to try all of this and remember to belly breathe as often as I can today. Thanks for the great information and suggestion.

  3. My belly jiggles like a bowlful of jelly. Does that count?
    This is a good tip. One that I think I would actually have to think to do. I will have to try that today.

  4. I have experienced a lot of work-related stress a few months ago. Had I have tried some belly breathing, could I have eliminated my bosses?

    All facetiousness aside, I actually tried this while reading your post. Apart from the unpleasant sight of my tummy protruding, I think you’re onto something. I will try it again, but next time, I’ll look away :)
    The enigmatic, masked blogger

  5. The scientific information came from a presentation on resilience by Robin Rose.

    As for jiggling bellies, if your belly is jiggling from deep breathing, then of course it counts!

    One other thought -- the benefits of exercise seem to mirror the benefits of deep breathing I mentioned in the post. I wonder if that's because we are more likely to breathe deeply when we are exerting ourselves through exercise. So exercising would be another way to build our habit of belly breathing.

  6. Wow, I didn't know this! This could be why my husband isn't sleeping right! He's under quite a bit of stress these last 6 months and has had problems sleeping. He gets up at the crack of dawn as well to go to work. I'm going to mention this to him! Thank you for your words of wisdom here!!

  7. Galen -
    Thanks for introducing me to belly breathing. We all need this. I love following you!

  8. Oh yes this is a great reminder! One that is so important for us to follow.....thanks for detailing this so will be with me all day along...! ;)

  9. Well, you never know what will catch someone's attention. I appreciate all the comments and the emails I've gotten on this topic! I'm belly breathing right now in gratitude! Thank you!

  10. Another great argument for elastic waist bands!!! :) I've heard a similar type of reminder system triggered by a word or image. Every time you hear a particular word (super!) or see a particular thing (school bus), take x number of belly breaths, or whatever thing you are trying to do on a fairly regular basis. My problem is that I keep forgetting. Time for more belly breaths!

  11. Galen, I learned the secret of a made bed years ago. Andy Pratt sings a song and the lyrics say, "love yourself and make your bed. That's when miracles occur." And it's true. Sometimes I'll go through a lazy spell and leave the bed tousled. During these times I notice that I feel "off". So yes, I agree. Making the bed makes a difference;)


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