We’ve discussed the benefits of meditation before on this blog, but many folks don’t understand why it’s called a practice. Simply put, it can be hard to learn to do, and requires practice to be effective. The concern I hear most from patients is they can’t even settle in to begin to practice meditation. What to do? Well, there are many ways to prepare to meditate. Today we’ll focus on deep breathing, which is also a core component of meditation.
There are many different deep breathing exercises you can try, but before you do, you must understand the importance of HOW to breathe. If you miss this point, you won’t reap the full benefits. So let’s review the importance of oxygen in the bloodstream and the mechanics of breathing. We’ll start with a brief summary of what oxygen in the blood actually does. In short, blood transports oxygen to all the cells of the body to:
- Provide cells with nutrients
- Transport hormones
- Remove waste products
- Assist with metabolism
Clearly, this is an oversimplification of each of these processes, but this isn’t a lecture in anatomy and physiology!
Most people, especially when stressed, unconsciously breathe from the chest. This form of breathing is very rapid and shallow, which can lead to low carbon dioxide levels in the blood, which can then lead to narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain and other organ systems. That’s not what we want. We want the blood supply to be filled with oxygen so the body can function at its best. To do this, we must engage our diaphragm muscles and practice breathing from the diaphragm. This method of breathing causes us to breathe deeply and rhythmically, and has been shown to reduce stress and lower heart rate and blood pressure. Additionally, it can be helpful in reducing anxiety and panic attacks and can prevent hyperventilation.
There are many tutorials on deep breathing that you can find online, and what works for your best friend may not work for you. When you review them, choose the tutorial that has the best voice, pace, and relaxing background sounds for you. As an example, below is a link to a guided session of diaphragmatic breathing provided by McMaster University: https://campusmentalhealth.ca/resource/mcmaster-guided-relaxation-cd/
In addition to preparing for meditation, you can practice diaphragmatic breathing as a way to alleviate panic attacks or stress, or even as a daily wellness exercise. If you don’t have time for a full-blown meditation session, try setting aside some time each day to practice diaphragmatic breathing for five minutes or so. If you are feeling anxious, try the exercise for as long as you need until you feel more relaxed. Over time, diaphragmatic breathing will become second nature.
This blog is not designed to diagnose, treat, or prevent illnesses or trauma, and Dr. Emick is not responsible for your use of this educational material or its consequences. Furthermore, reading this blog does not create a doctor-patient relationship. The information contained within this blog is not intended to dictate what constitutes reasonable, appropriate, or best care for any given physical or behavioral health issue, nor does it take into account the unique circumstances that define the health issues of the reader. If you have questions about the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of a condition or illness, you should consult your personal health care professional. As always, consult with your personal health care professional before beginning or changing any fitness or nutrition program to make sure that it is appropriate for your needs. Dr. Emick reserves the right to modify her positions on a subject based upon new research or data as it presents.