How to Belly Breathe

Posted by – January 28, 2019
Categories: Bodywork & Somatics General Health & Healing

When it comes to improved digestion, reduced levels of stress, and overall health, the gut is the place to start. But it’s not just about what we put into our bodies. It’s also about unlearning toxic patterns that restrict our oxygen levels, perpetuate stress, and impede whole-body health. According to Allison Post and Stephen Cavaliere, authors of The Gut Wellness Guide: The Power of Breath, Touch, and Awareness to Reduce Stress, Aid Digestion, and Reclaim Whole-Body Health , a touch- and breath-based approach to health and healing is a critical tool that allows us to slow down, breathe deep, and reconnect with our breath. Learn more from the authors about how to get started with this excerpt from The Gut Wellness Guide:

Whenever one of my clients is having a difficult time with digestion, movement, connecting with her body or her true emotion, or when she finds herself in a rut, struggling with healing, I notice that she has in some way constricted her breathing. Rather than get entangled in the web of her apparent problems, I gently repeat one of my personal mantras: “Breathing is so groovy,” and I go to the belly, because that is where true breathing begins. People often ask me: Why is breathing so important? Doesn’t everyone breathe? Isn’t it just something we do naturally? Here are my short answers to these questions. Belly Breathing is important, even vital, because it puts you immediately back into your body and helps you feel fully, from the center outward to the extremities. If you are breathing into your belly, which is the natural way, it’s almost impossible to remain stressed and uncomfortable. Yes, everyone does breathe, but very few people do so anywhere near full potential. Almost everyone I encounter is breathing just enough to stay alive and no more.

How to Belly Breathe:

Lie on your back with your knees up, either on the bed or the floor. Make sure you are comfortable and that you are in a well-ventilated area. If you wish, you can put pillows under your knees, but make sure you use enough to get your knees well elevated. An alternative is to let your knees come together and rest against each other. You want to be able to relax the legs while not exerting the slightest muscular tension in the hips or abdomen to keep them up.

First, bring awareness to the way you are breathing now. Does it flow, struggle, get caught in your throat or chest? Or is it imperceptible? Is it deep or shallow? Is it painful or boring to rest, to be quiet, to feel your inner rhythm? Feel your back against the floor. Bring your awareness to your spine. Feel its full length, from the sacrum up through the neck. Keep breathing and connecting to the sensation of your spine.

Place your hands firmly but gently on your belly, index fingers pointing in toward each other, touching the navel, and if you can, keep your elbows resting on the floor. Inhale slowly, and feel your belly rise gently, pushing against your hands. Exhale and let the belly fall back. Once you have that rhythm in place, with the belly enlarging on the inhale and collapsing on the exhale, try to expand the volume of air taken on the inhale. On each inhale try to fill up the entire belly from your hips up to the bottom edge of the rib cage. Let your chest relax. Try to get the belly to fill up completely, rising on the inhale, lowering on the exhale, without using the chest muscles.

The more you practice, the more you will grasp this gentle, natural way of breathing. Your belly fills and empties of air almost of its own free will. You want to be careful that you are actually drawing air in deeply to the center, not just flexing the abdominal muscles and pushing the surface out. That’s not bringing in air; that’s just an abdominal exercise, and it will only make you more tense. Let the air wash in and out as if it were the waves at the seashore. The waves come in and out of their own accord—no pumping, no forcing—and in the same way, experience your belly expanding and collapsing as a reaction to the movement of the waves of air.

Another important aspect of Belly Breathing is to breathe in through the nose, and gently—without forcing—to exhale through the mouth. You will have to inhale slowly and gently, and relax all muscles, in order to fill up the belly entirely. Exhale through the open mouth in an unhurried fashion and soften the neck and jaw. (You don’t want to be exhaling through clenched teeth.) Quite often people hear “open the mouth,” and instead of letting go of tension in the jaw, they purse the lips and blow hard. That’s not it. Let the jaw drop, and on the exhale, give a gentle sigh.

All this may take some practice. Don’t expect to get it all at once. Check to see where it is difficult to fill up with breath and if you can do it without muscle exertion. (Of course, there are some muscles working, but in very subtle ways.) The softer you keep your legs, back, shoulders, neck, and even the arms, the more air you are going to get in and the more space you will give the internal organs to unwind and expand into. The more relaxed and complete the exhale, the more you will clear the body of old stale air.

When you feel that your breathing is rhythmic, complete, and effortless, you can, at the very end of the exhale, tuck in the abdominal muscles very slightly to expel that last bit of stale air. But be sure to relax the muscles on the subsequent inhale.

If you become dizzy or nauseous, take a rest. Do not be alarmed. It just shows how much you need to do this! Enhanced breathing brings waste products into the bloodstream quite rapidly, and that can make you feel queasy for a bit. If you stay relaxed during this exercise and take it slowly, you will detoxify the blood at a proper pace without any harm whatsoever. If you do become lightheaded, rest until you feel grounded. You can resume your practice at another time.

Despite how simple this exercise may seem or how involved my description is, I urge you not to skip it. Keep practicing until you get the hang of it. When you are comfortable with Belly Breathing you will be energized and will look forward to more. Also, please remember that Belly Breathing is an exercise. It is designed to clear the center of toxicity and to teach the body to breathe naturally. Belly Breathing is not meant to be an ideal form of “perfect” breathing that you are required to do continuously.

Excerpted from The Gut Wellness Guide: The Power of Breath, Touch, and Awareness to Reduce Stress, Aid Digestion, and Reclaim Whole-Body Health by Allison Post and Stephen Cavaliere.

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About the Author

Julia is a publicist at North Atlantic Books who loves spreading the word about our fantastic books and authors. Before joining NAB in 2017 she was the Event Coordinator at Books Inc in Berkeley, CA.