Do you feel like you are constantly rushing around, trying to get all the things done, only to find yourself falling in bed exhausted every night? And, the next day you get up and do it all over again?
Or even worse, do you have pain that makes sleeping (and life!) difficult with each day just piling up on the last?
Are you looking for a proven solution that you can implement TODAY to help you relax, decrease your pain, feel better, lower your blood pressure, and help you to sleep better? An answer that is backed by science and absolutely free for you to use right now? No equipment required!
Then you are in the right place! Today we are discussing the one thing you can do today to decrease pain and promote relaxation that is scientifically proven to decrease your blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones.
What Is The One Thing That You Can Do Right Now To Decrease Pain and Improve Relaxation?
Deep breathing! Humans are actually designed to use their diaphragm when they are breathing. Deep breathing work helps to remind our bodies how they are supposed to work, naturally. It activates the diaphragm and helps to decrease stress to the neck muscles.
Also, deep breathing activates the vagus nerve which activates your relaxation response. You may have heard about the vagus nerve and wondered how this all really works.
Or maybe you have heard that deep breathing is important but have never really understood why. Let’s dive into it.
What Is the Diaphragm?
The diaphragm is a huge muscle in your body that is shaped like a parachute. It attaches to the lower ribs of the body – all the way around. It’s the structure that separates your lungs from your organs.
And, it’s the big muscle that we are supposed to be using while we are breathing. It’s designed for this purpose. However, in our world today we tend to use the “accessory muscles of respiration”. These muscles are found in our neck and attach to our shoulders.
Ever feel like you are wearing your shoulders for earrings? You are probably over using these accessory muscles and not using enough diaphragm while you are breathing.
Which leads many people to have neck tension and pain. Using the diaphragm to breathe decreases stress to these muscles and helps them to relax. Which will immediately help to decrease stress on your body.
But, wait, there’s more! The vagus nerve runs right through the center of the diaphragm.
Does The Vagus Nerve Affect The Dipahragm?
The vagus nerve does not directly affect the diaphragm but it does run right through the center of the diaphragm. Which means that activating your diaphragm also activates the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is responsible for sending signals from the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) out to the organs. It actually tells the organs how they should function. I like to call it the body’s relaxation response system.
You see, the PNS tells the organs to relax. When it is activated, you have decreased blood pressure, decreased heart rate, decrease stress hormones and an increased ability to tolerate exercise.
There is no way to directly influence the PNS but by using the diaphragm to stimulate the vagus nerve, you can have an indirect response.
Which means, right now, you have a way to decrease the stress hormones that are circulating through your body without having to take any medication or use any special equipment. But, you do need to learn how to perform deep breathing correctly.
What Else Does The Vagus Nerve Do?
By activating your relaxation response, your vagus nerve can reduce stress, anxiety, and inflammation. Yes, even inflammation. You see, by decreasing the cortisol (stress hormone) running through your body you are also decreasing inflammation.
You may remember years ago that there was tons of talk about the vagus nerve and special programs developed to activate it. This is because it is such a powerful way to activate your relaxation response. And, who couldn’t use some relaxation in their world today?
I Have Tried Deep Breathing… And, It Doesn’t Work For Me!
This week I had a patient who I was discussing deep breathing with. She said that many doctors and other PT’s had said that she needed to improve her breathing but it didn’t work for her.
Have you felt the same way?
We had to discuss and practice how to perform deep breathing correctly. Here I am going to share with you exactly the instructions that I gave her:
- 1Lie on your back in a comfortable position.
- 2Put one hand on your belly.
- 3Take a slow deep breathe and draw it all the way into your belly. You should see your belly expand like a balloon.
- 4Slowly exhale through pursed lips like you are blowing out birthday candles.
- 5Take your other hand and put it on your chest.
- 6Take another slow deep breathe in without letting your chest rise.
- 7Slowly exhale through pursed lips.
You should practice this initially lying on your back because it makes it easier to see your belly rise and to actually draw that breathe into your belly. Once you get the hang of it you can practice in sitting and then even in standing.
Actually, this deep belly breathing is how you should be breathing ALL the time. However, so many of us do not do this. We don’t activate that big huge diaphragm that is designed for just this activity. Which leads us to rely on other muscles and increases neck tension. You also miss out on the benefits of activating that relaxation response which helps to lower your blood pressure and decrease the stress hormones.
Diaphragmatic breathing stimulates your vagus nerve which lowers your stress response. Lowering this response deactivates your fight or flight response. Which allows you to show up in the world as the best version of yourself.
What do you have to lose? Try deep breathing for 5 minutes per day and see it you notice a change in your stress, pain, and general mood.
You can also check out our blog posts where we take a deep dive into the diaphragm and it’s relationship to the pelvic floor, digestion, and heartburn.
Want to know more about how our Specialists at Physical Therapy for everyBODY can help you live an active, healthy, and confident lifestyle without pain medication or surgery? Then we encourage you to sign up for one of our Free Discovery Visits. During this visit, we will hear more about your journey and see if you are a good fit for what we offer.