The Importance of Belly Breathing for Stress & Pain ReductionHeidi Hadley
In this week’s blog I am going to discuss the strong link between stress, pain and belly breathing. You will learn how stress occurs within our mind and body, how this translates to pain and why belly breathing is an important approach to reversing many stress and pain related issues.
Stress certainly doesn’t need much of an introduction. We have all endured various levels of stress in our life and we can guarantee it will occur again. But is it very interesting to see how the same stress affects people in different ways, some become the victim in life, whereas others become survivors. Why? This is something I will discuss later on. Before I do, let’s consider how stress impacts on a physiological and emotional/mental level.
When we encounter stress, our central nervous system switches into the stress response. This is a reaction to prepare your body for the stressor. The first area in your brain to be impacted by stress is the hypothalamus. It is an area within your limbic system which deals with emotions and feelings. The hypothalamus also monitors the nervous system, digestive system, heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. When we encounter stress, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released which heavily impacts on these body systems. When you are stressed, your nervous system shuts down the actions of the digestive system because naturally in a survival situation, the last thing you want to do is eat! Rather you want to conserve energy. More activity and focus is given to the heart, to allow for greater energy to fight or flee the situation. When we are stressed, there is a suppression of sensation and feeling in our body because if we were to get injured, we could continue to fight and defend ourselves or run away. Breath rate increases to allow more oxygen to the muscles and tissues to aid with the situation.
Nowadays we do not face stress in the form of being on the battlefields of war or having to hunt an animal for food. We do however deal with stress in different forms. Stress is a good and protective mechanism for us, but when we live in a permanent cycle of stress, we never release the tension. Consider your digestive system. If your digestive system is suppressed several times each day from stress, can you see how easy it is for inflammatory bowels disorders, ulcers, constipation, diarrhoea and loss of appetite to occur? In order to deal with the issue, people suppress or push their stress down, thinking that if they work through it and keep busy, it will get better. It doesn’t.
Suppressed emotion due to ‘keeping the peace’ and ‘not wanting to cause problems’ has a cumulative effect on our mind and body. If a person continues to suppress their emotions, the physical symptoms increase. Physical symptoms of stress include digestive disorders, ulcers, heartburn, indigestion, headaches, high blood pressure, palpitations, breathing problems, overeating, insomnia, exhaustion and apathy, excessive sweating, grinding teeth, twitching nervously and picking at skin. When stress is ongoing, cortisol will also suppress the actions of the immune system, making a person more susceptible to illnesses.
With ongoing stress, you become psychologically and emotionally less resilient, leading to a person becoming over sensitive and reactive, increasingly depressed, unable to adapt and change, become disorganised and losing perspective with everyday situations.
How can you stop this cycle of stress? What can you do?
STOP and become Somatic
When we practise Somatic movement and the principles in our life, we understand the importance to stop and recalibrate. Many people are wise with words and academically can tell you how to practise certain actions. However less actually follow through with their words. Often they say “Oh I’m ok, I don’t need that help. I know what I should do.” They are correct, they know what to do, but often they don’t do it!
When we begin practising a Somatic lifestyle, we identify that the real cause of stress is not the external circumstances, such as not having time or having too many demands to practise somatic movement, mindfulness and breathing. Rather it is your perception of the circumstances. Whether it is challenging, overwhelming, you’re not as important as others in the family or you're fearful that when you stop, you allow yourself to release long held tension. Your perceptions arise from your inner, core beliefs about yourself, not somebody or something else. You have created limitations in your beliefs about what you are capable of doing from what you have been told or taught to believe over the years.
Dr Thomas Hanna, the creator of the mind and body modality Somatics, always stated that the mind and body, or the soma, cannot be separated. They heavily influence each other. This fact is also backed up by cell biologist Bruce Lipton. He stated,
“Our responses to environmental stressors are indeed controlled by perception, but not all of our learned perceptions are accurate. Not all snakes are dangerous! Perception controls biology, but these perceptions can be true or false. Therefore we would be more accurate to refer to these controlling perceptions as beliefs. Our beliefs control our biology.”
Basically until you change your internal dialogue and the deep beliefs you have about yourself, you will continue to perceive life with the filter you have created. What you focus on, grows. This filter can be as a victim or a survivor. The two categories create very different actions and outcomes.
The Importance of Belly Breathing to Reduce Stress and Pain
When I initially work with clients, 9 times out of 10 they breathe in to their upper chest. When I ask them to inhale, they suck their belly in. They find inhaling into their belly a challenge. I often cue clients by encouraging them to imagine their belly is like a balloon. I ask them, “Can you inflate your belly as you Inhale? As you exhale, can you allow tension and tightness to release. Notice how heavy your body feels when you allow yourself to fully release?”
This may sound common sense on paper, however when a person tries this action for real, they are often surprised.
CHALLENGE: Before you read on, could you try it for yourself? As you inhale, what is moving? Can your feel your chest rise and fall? Can you feel your ribs swing out and the space widen between the ribs as you inhale? Can you feel your belly expand like a balloon? Do you notice if all 3 actions are moving together? Is one action missing? As you inhale, what does your belly naturally want to do? Suck in? Expand?
Much of our emotions are stored within muscles in and around the centre of our body - the belly, lower back and pelvis. Until we consciously and deliberately start training these areas to release long held muscular stress patterns of tightness, we will continue to suffer. These patterns will manifest in muscle and nerve pain. The actions of suppressed pain and feeling cause a person to be unable to read and self correct habitual patterns of movement, posture, thoughts, words and actions.
When we start developing somatic breathing which involves your belly, we begin to switch the actions of your nervous system from a stressed response to a ‘rest and digest’ mode. This will begin to reduce stress related symptoms and pain can actually reduce when we allow our body to start relaxing and releasing chronically tight muscles.
The more you practise and apply Somatic Movement, Breathing, Mindfulness and mindset principles into your daily life, the more you will notice positive shifts physically and emotionally as long held muscle tension which has created chronic pain begins to reduce in severity.
To learn how to practise these skills in the comfort and privacy of your own home, check out The Total Somatics Approach to Health & Wellness Online Program at www.TotalSomatics.com. I have created a program which you have access to for 6 months. You will find a mindset video series, movement classes and additional support material to help you work from the inside out to create lasting changes.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and your long held beliefs and reactions to stress didn’t appear over night. So be patient with yourself. Allow yourself to start learning how you can release muscular tension which in turn with influence the level of pain you are in. Once you start sensing, feeling and self correcting the habits of your mind and body, you feel educated and empowered in the area of your health and well being.
I look forward to guiding your through The Total Somatics Approach to Health & Wellness Online Program. Throughout your time online with Total Somatics, I am available via email or skype for questions and queries.
Heidi Hadley xx