Saturday, October 15, 2011

Breathing Like a Baby

One of my favorite things to do these days is hold my almost one month old grandson. I like to look at him, cuddle him, smell him, and just watch him. Being with him is an easy way for me to stay in the present moment. Who knew that just watching someone breathe could be so fascinating?!

He is already very wise. He knows how to belly breathe. Babies breathe into their bellies. They all do (which of course makes them all wise). Belly breathing. That means breathing into the lower part of your lungs. This will push your belly out. We’re all 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. Belly breathing is linked to 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 the present moment and will help us stay in our happy place. I didn’t read this anywhere, but I’m hoping it will also help me remember where I left the car keys or why I walked into the kitchen.

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!


  1. What a great idea! I did some belly breathing while I was reading this post. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Ah the key to knowing where my car keys always are is of two places, my purse or the car! I think I'll try some of that belly's much like taking those deep breathe, from way down deep and pulling them out of us right?...refreshing ourselves along the are a very wise woman...I love it when you share these highlights for our life....enjoy your little darling...those infant months go by so quickly!

  3. These are really good tips and about watching the baby.....there's something so wonderful about that.

  4. Linda--I know, I remember to belly breathe every time I read or write about it! Thanks for your comment.

    Karen--Well, that would work for me if I actually put the keys in their right place! Any tips for remembering why I walk into a room?! Ha! Thanks for commenting.

    Sarah (or do you prefer Nikki?)--Yep, he's pretty fun to watch, except when he's crying like right now so his mom has him! Thanks for your comment.

  5. Galen: Yes, animals breathe that way. That should tell young MA practitioners something.

  6. I loved this one. First of all I can relate to holding a sweet baby because we just had our 2nd great granddaughter; and it is always sweet to just hold and cuddle and watch every little movement.
    From a medical standpoint you are right on with belly breathing. I find it interesting that we don't use our whole lung capacity nor our whole brain capacity either. I am going to take your advice and work on my belly breathing. I need a reminder string on my finger or I will forget to breathe right or use my brain.
    Thanks for your fun post!

  7. Babies are such blessings. It's a joy to hold such sweet innocence. Thank you for the tip about belly breathing. I will really have to work on this one. It might help with my forgetfulness.

  8. JJ--I feel so much better when I belly breathe. How did we forget how good this is? Thanks for commenting.

    LeAnn--Congratulations on your great grandbaby! I know, that is interesting that we don't. I need a reminder on my finger, too. Thanks for your comment.

    Bonnie--I'll let you know if it helps with mine. What was I saying...?? Just kidding. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Hi Galen, I've been so swamped with this educating myself and now to add to that I'm getting everything in order for this International practicum which is a sudden change of events, I just wanted to let you know that I'm not visiting on purpose, I LOVE reading your blogs but time is of the essence. I shall be back when the storm breaks. In the meantime take care!

  10. Thank you for showing your simple, easy to follow steps, Galen. It needs some getting use to. I believe opera singers do this, too.

    Take care and have a great day!

  11. Hi Galen,

    It is fascinating reading how you describe being with your grandson! :D

    He must indeed be wise to be able to inspire you to write a post just by breathing haha!

    It's true that many of us are shallow breathers. I am no exception. I think it would be a great idea to incorporate your ritual of 10 deep belly breaths in the morning and before you sleep into my life. That will slowly help to ease belly breathing into my routine apart from doing it during meditation.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  12. darlin--No worries. I keep up with your blog, so I know you are busy! Good luck with everything and I will be happy to see you whenever you stop by.

    Inspiring Always--That's interesting about opera singers. I'll have to ask some of the singers I know. Thanks for your comment.

    Irving--Yes, he's a pretty smart little guy! Good luck with developing a habit of belly breathing. Thanks for commenting.

  13. Thank you for the reminder, Galen. It's great that a one-month old baby can teach us a thing or two :-)

    Am breathing deeply now...from the belly....

  14. Evelyn--Out of the mouths of babes, so to speak! Thanks for your comment.


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