What would you think if I told you that you already have at your disposal a ready-to-use, guaranteed-to-work, and free toolset for helping yourself heal, be happier, and live more comfortably?
Moreover, I could say that you already use this tool, but likely may not be using it the best you could. Well, I could say all that because I will now. Each and every one of us already has a powerful tool for moving ourselves towards health and comfort, but few use it wisely. That tool is the breath.
“Oh come on, Dr. Sharman!” I hear you say. “I breath all day long, I’m here aren’t I?”
Well of course that’s true. But consider this: the autonomic breath (that’s the breath your body ‘just does’) is only going to be enough to keep you alive, or respond to the immediate demands of your body (that flight of stairs at church, carrying the laundry, unloading the groceries, etc). When you’re injured, and are trying to get better, you can improve your own healing by breathing more deliberately, or rather, paying more attention to how you are breathing.
One of the first things you might notice is Where you are breathing. No really, watch a very young child or even a toddler breath and you’ll see their belly happily rise with the inhale, and lower with the exhale. This is a pure example of what is often called abdominal breathing. Watch most adults, however, and you’ll see their shoulders lift up as they puff up their chests with each inhale. That’s for those that breath deeply at all, many adults barely draw a breath, or tend to have a very shallow breath.
Try this: place the palms of your hands on your belly. It’s ok, we’re doing this for science. Now, when you inhale, try to stick your belly out into your hands. Then, when you exhale, try to draw the belly in away from your hands a little bit. It’s ok if you don’t get it at first, but keep trying. Do this several times, and then let your hands down and take a break.
What have we done here? A lot, actually. By taking a deep breath, we’ve moved more air deeper into the lungs, where most of the blood flow is (it’s called capillary density, and there’s more of it in the lower lobes of your lungs). This is important as we’re trying to get as much air into the body as possible, so the blood can get as much of the oxygen it needs from the inhaled air. Over time, this can also make it easier to get a big breath in, and the lungs are like thick balloons. It’s very hard to blow up a new balloon completely first try, isn’t it?
Deep breathing also entails a larger movement of the diaphragm, the muscular dome that is up under our lungs and above our abdominal organs. As it moves, it gently massages both our abdominal organs, and our heart! The heart rests under your left lung, and on top of the diaphragm. So taking a deep breath massages your heart, isn’t that a wonderful image?