Your body is equipped with everything you need in order to maintain your vitality. And one of your most powerful tools for simple vital living is the abdominal breath work. Yes, that same breath that comes so naturally to babies, as we watch them breathing with their cute little tummies. The same breath work that we see children use as they run around and play. That same breath that adults… wait, why did we as adults stop using our breath work this way?
“Wait what do you mean?” is the question I get when I teach this technique in my qi gong classes and in personal life coaching. Most people don’t even know they’re not breathing this way, let alone that they’ve forgotten how to do it to begin with. “I don’t get it, it’s just breathing right” – is the next question or statement I tend to get when they start trying to do it and realize their muscles need retraining to coordinate through the movement. Followed by the process of now consciously retraining their breath for optimal health. But what’s beautiful is watching the “aha” moments – those moments of self realization, the amazing shift to grasping how much power they truly have access to in their own bodies, and what’s available to them in enhancing their own personal well being without needing to detour to the gym.
Abdominal breath is the art of breathing through the diaphragm and allowing the abdomen to push out and in as we breathe in and out. When done right, there’s very little motion through the chest and definitely none through the shoulders.
Why should we care – for one, a large contributor to shoulder pain is the fact that so many people are breathing through their shoulders. Which after a long day of whatever they’re doing, just simply creates tension. Second, abdominal breathing is the key to switching our system from a state of stress to one of relaxation – you want to destress quick, practice abdominal breathing for a few minutes. Third, it heals your digestion – abdominal breath massages your internal organs. As your abdomen moves in and out, and the diaphragm up and down with your breath, your internal organs gain the massage, stimulation, and circulation they’re so badly yearning for. It then starts to support digestion by helping the muscles lining our intestines do their job. It generates the blood and energy circulation that helps heal our internal organs, and the fluid flow to support nutrient absorption. Fourth (why stop now, we’re on a roll) – it activates the vegas nerve which is The nerve that connects your brain to your gut – you know that second brain that’s so vital to us. It stimulates and activates this nerve which can then aid in appetite control. Fifth, it creates a pump that moves circulation and energy into your lower body right down to your toes. This includes supporting reproductive health. 6th, it’s the breath that requires the least amount of energy to perform. And, I feel one more reason is vitally needed – it’s linked to waking up our body’s vital energy center, that incredible “lower dantian”; more on this later.
So why does almost the entire adult population stop using abdominal breath after a certain age? And when does this normally happen? Simply put, it’s stress – and it happens at whatever time in our lives we start experiencing stress on a regular basis, and get caught trying to resolve our life’s problems in our heads. We then lose touch with our bodies, and our system gets stuck in continuously using stress related breathing as a norm. We allow our lives to be driven by needing to accomplish, and filled with intensity of getting things done. Chest and shoulder breathing is stress breathing, this is just simply how human physiology works; and the more we do it the more we get stuck in that pattern. What happens next is our system gets crafty – because our chest breathing takes so much effort to perform, our body then makes our breath more shallow so that it doesn’t need to move our ribs so much, and only expands our lungs just a little. Next, it gets even more creative and just uses our shoulders to breathe. Resulting in light shallow breaths that over years deprive our lower body of circulation, hold back our vital energy, and can lead to all sorts of other problems in our later years. The great news is that to undo it, all we need to do is to start practicing our abdominal breath again – just a couple of minutes a day.
To start, sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor, no crossed. Keep you hands palm over palm on your lower abdomen. As you breathe in, focus on only using your abdomen to breathe – expanding your abdomen out with your breath work, and then breathing out all of your air and bringing your abdomen right back in with your out breath. Breathing in to about 80% or a count of 4, and breathing out 100% or a count of 6. Be gentle on yourself and don’t force it – give your muscles time to figure it out. 2 minutes max at first as you might get light headed if you do more. Breathing in and out in whatever way is most natural for now – ultimately you’ll get to a point of executing your breath work in and out through the nose.
Publisher’s Note: Mike Popovici is a Life Coach, Guide, Qi Gong & Mindfulness Instructor, and founder of Phoenix Internal Arts Academy.