KEYS TO FITNESS: Stress Reduction

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By SHEILA YONEMOTO, P.T.

Consider the frantic pace of life today.  Even if you don’t count freeway traffic, people still have to deal with the demands of maintaining maximum job production, balancing family and social life and keeping afloat in the river of finances. Wouldn’t it be ideal if you could identify the one contributing factor to your stress and lessen or remove it? 

Sometimes, however, a single cause of stress cannot be found, yet muscles get tense, hands feel cold and blood pressure increases. Diaphragmatic breathing may be a key to easing tension in our daily routine.

Singers learn this style of breathing for more effective voice control. It’s simple to do and with daily practice can help you cope, and it does calm a tense body.

Diaphragmatic Breathing: The diaphragm, a large muscle located below the lungs, separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. It is the major muscle responsible for bringing air into the lungs.  You can spot someone using diaphragmatic breathing by watching how the stomach goes in and out instead of the shoulders going up and down and the chest going in and out. 

This type of breathing sends a signal to the autonomic nervous system to go into a rest mode. The autonomic nervous system controls the automatic functions of the body such as blood pressure, heart rate, sweat and digestion. During rest periods such as sleep, the body repairs and restores itself.

To learn diaphragmatic breathing, start by lying down and placing your hands on your stomach or lower ribs. Allow air to fill your lungs with a relaxed breath and notice your stomach rising and/or ribs expanding. Keep your shoulders and neck muscles relaxed. Continue to breathe easily for 15 minutes and allow your body to sink into the bed or floor. 

Sometimes it helps to imagine the muscles draping like silk over the bones.  

If you become tense doing this type of breathing, stop. The purpose is to calm the body, not increase tension. Those who have trouble doing this breathing exercise tend to attack the assignment with great intensity. Effort causes the autonomic nervous system to shut off the resting/restorative mode and turn on the “fight or flight” mode, making your body ready for action. Diaphragmatic breathing should be effortless.

Continue to practice this effortless deep breathing in more upright positions and with more potential distractions such as light, noise and movement. If you get good at using this technique, you can calm yourself even while talking to someone who normally tenses you.

The benefits of regularly doing diaphragmatic breathing include having a calmer nervous system and more relaxed muscles allowing for better blood flow into the muscles while also lowering your blood pressure and warming your hands. 

Isn’t it time for you to get off the edge of your seat and take a nice long breath of air?

Get more energy, lessen stress and rid yourself of aches and pains.  Try a no-impact “Chinese energy” exercise class. Your first class, a $30 value, is free!  Call or visit our website for more information. 

Sheila Yonemoto, P.T., has been a physical therapist for over 30 years, specializing in Integrative Manual Therapy utilizing a holistic approach. She can be reached at Yonemoto Physical Therapy, 55 S. Raymond Ave., Suite 100, Alhambra, CA  91801. Call (626) 576-0591 for a free consultation and free insurance verification, or visit  www.yonemoto.com for more information.

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