Breath, the most essential component of life, affects our physiology as well as our psychological state. When we breathe rapidly, shallowly, and in our chests, our heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension increases, and our hands get cool. In a sense, poor breathing habits trick our brain into thinking we are in an emergency situation causing a fight-or-flight response. In contrast, slow diaphragmatic breathing allows our body to transform into a “rest” phase. It results in lowered blood pressure and heart rate, warm hands, decreased muscle holding, and a general sense of relaxation.
In a quiet, relaxing atmosphere you can re-learn proper breathing techniques and change the negative effects of stress. This process can be a very empowering experience.
Biofeedback uses a computer to create greater awareness of breath patterns and posture, providing visual feedback to expose poor breathing habits. Receiving instruction in proper diaphragmatic breathing, you can re-train yourself by monitoring changes in your muscle tension, blood pressure, and hand temperature. This “biofeedback” makes it much easier to understand the techniques in the clinic and apply them to everyday situations.
The following is a home practice exercise developed by Dr. Erik Pepper at San Francisco State University:
Lie down on your back and place a book near your bellybutton. As you inhale, allow your stomach to push against the book and slowly rise. As you exhale, allow the pressure of the book to push your stomach gently down. Be sure to let air flow evenly and slowly as you watch the book rising and sinking. As you continue to breathe, the goal is to slow down your breathing rate while maintaining the belly-breathing technique. This “belly breathing” will facilitate a rest phase, relaxing you, reducing pain, and lowering your blood pressure.