Relaxing Muscles for Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises
(This is Part 2 of Module 10. Buteyko breathing exercises)
Note. This website uses words "diaphragmatic breathing" and "abdominal breathing" interchangeably (as synonyms). Technically speaking, there are separate groups of muscles that can stretch or expand the lower parts of the lungs. However, since the purpose of breathing retraining is to improve body O2 during automatic breathing (not during breathing exercises only), this division on diaphragmatic breathing and abdominal breathing is practically insignificant. When people have low O2 content in body cells (less than 20 s), they suffer from chest breathing. With more than 30 s for body O2, Nature ensures diaphragmatic breathing 24/7. Many yoga teachers, however, teach about divisions and even subdivisions of abdominal and diaphragmatic breathing, but they do not know and do not teach their students about the purpose of yoga. These are usually the same yoga teachers who claim that breathing more air improves body O2, and that CO2 is toxic waste gas.
This web page is not "breathe 2 relax app" or "breathe 2 relax Android" app. This page provides instructions for the safest diaphragmatic breathing exercise (relaxed diaphragmatic breathing) for people with hypertension and other forms of heart disease to lower their heart rate (pulse) and gradually reduce their blood pressure. Bear in mind that most hypertensives, when they have less than 20 s for the body oxygen test, are not able to get benefits from regular Buteyko breathing exercises that involve breath holds and reduced breathing.
Healthy people (over 40 s for the CP test or the body-oxygen test) naturally have diaphragmatic breathing at rest. This graph below shows the normal breathing pattern. Each cycle has a tiny inhalation (the upward straight lines), exhalation (the curved downward lines) and automatic pause (the almost- horizontal lines) accompanied by the relaxation of all breathing muscles.
If the CP (body-oxygen content) is about 20 s or less, as is the case with sick people, the typical breathing pattern is the following:
The inhalations are bigger (deeper); breathing is faster (higher frequency); exhalations are forceful (not relaxed), and there is no automatic pause.
Warning. It is a serious mistake and a waste of time to practice normal breathing if your CP is less than 25 s. Why? People start to breathe deeply, while during normal breathing inhalations are tiny (normal breathing is invisible). Dr. Buteyko noticed this effect over 40 years ago (his quote is a few lines below). In fact, you will learn soon that reduced breathing, the main part of the Buteyko breathing exercises, is more shallow and, for sick people, more frequent.
“The breathing [retraining] should be monitored by an instructor who had learned the method himself. Our instruction of 1964 was published in Novosibirsk, 1000 issues. We still were naive and thought that after reading this correct instruction, the patient would be able to reduce breathing and then compare when it is normal. It [the instruction] included the information about normal breathing: 2 s for inhalation, 3 s for exhalation, 3 s for the pause, etc. First, he [the student] starts to breathe deeply, secondly, he immediately tries to fulfill that normal breathing. All [final] effects are the opposite, even [for] a [medical] doctor.” Dr. Buteyko, Public Lecture in the Moscow State University, 1969.
Relaxing breathing muscles and diaphragmatic breathing
This big and deep breathing usually makes chest muscles to do the main job of air pumping. Why? Low CO2 content makes the diaphragm tense. Coupled with slouching, a lack of CO2 restricts diaphragmatic movements making chest breathing the typical feature of people with low CPs.
If you have been using mostly your chest muscles for breathing at rest during the last 5-10 or more years, it would take some days or weeks to restore the normal diaphragmatic breathing.
The process of learning to unblock the diaphragm is divided into 4 stages:
Stage 1: Feeling the breath
Stage 2: Relaxation of the body’s muscles
Stage 3: Tensing and relaxing breathing muscles
Stage 4: Relaxed diaphragmatic breathing.
Stage 1: Feeling the breath
Focus on your usual breathing for 2-3 minutes at rest while sitting with a straight spine. What do you feel? If the sensations are vague, take a deep slow in-breath and slowly exhale. Do you feel how the airflow goes through your nostrils? Do you have any sensations at the back of your throat? Are there any feelings about movement of air inside the chest and bronchi? What do you sense near your stomach?
Usually, children have a good perception about their own breathing. Older people notice fewer sensations. Having these sensations makes the process of learning easier. However, even if the student feels nothing at all (rare, but possible), it is still possible to learn the method. How? First, the student can restore the sensations by doing special exercises and focusing his attention on his own breathing. Second, if these exercises do not work, as in very rare cases, the teacher can use, for the right students, special breathing exercises that do not need the feeling of one's breath.
To restore the sensations of your own breath, the following exercises can be used.
1. Put your hands around your waist line, as if embracing yourself, and listen to your usual breathing for about 20-30 seconds. You will be able to detect the movements of the diaphragm.
2. Put your hands slightly above the waist (about 10 cm or 4 inches higher) around your waist and listen to your usual breathing for about 20-30 seconds. You will be able to detect the movements of the rib cage.
In most cases, repeating these exercises a few times will solve the problem. If the sensations are still not present, the student should practice the exercise with the books and the exercise with the belt described below.
Stage 2: Relaxation of the body’s muscles
The student is asked to tense some parts of his body muscles and then relax them. This is usually not a problem for a particular arm or leg, but is more difficult when more muscles are involved. To learn tension and relaxation of the whole body gradually, the student can start with some muscles and then add other groups. For our future goals, the student should be able:
- to tense the whole body and then relax it;
- to tense the upper part of the body (from the rib cage up) and then relax it.
Stage 3: Tensing and relaxing breathing muscles
As a next logical step, the student tries to tense and relax breathing muscles, which we divide, for our purposes, into 2 groups:
- the diaphragm (other names are “tummy”, “belly”, and “stomach”);
- all remaining breathing muscles (other names are “chest muscles”, “rib cage muscles”, and “thoracic muscles”).
Here all these muscles are tensed and relaxed together. In order to achieve success, do the following simple exercise. Close the mouth and stop breathing through the nose (using our throat lock mechanism). Try to take a strong and big inhale, while there is no way for the air to move into the lungs. This helps to achieve a strong sensation of tension in the breathing muscles. Keep the tension for 1-2 seconds and then relax the muscles and take a light inhalation.
Stage 4: Relaxed breathing using the diaphragm
Can you breathe for 1-2 minutes using the tummy or stomach only? If you are uncertain or your sensations are absent or vague, it is necessary to review Module 8: How to develop diaphragmatic breathing 24/7
After the student is able to breathe using mainly the diaphragm, the next step is to learn how to relax it during exhalations. Each exhale should be accompanied by the relaxation of all bodily muscles. The changes in the breathing pattern for a person with the low initial CP, who practices relaxation of the diaphragm only (no deliberate air hunger), are shown below.
Relaxed Diaphragmatic Breathing for Hypertension and Low-CP students
Your breathing before this exercise is shown using the black line (with forceful exhalations). During this exercise, you should unblock the diaphragm. You have the following goal: take your usual inhalation using your diaphragm only and then relax your diaphragm for exhalation. This will make your exhalations smooth (the blue line for your new breathing pattern). Note that the depth of your inhalations remains the same, but the frequency of your breathing becomes smaller. Hence, reduced breathing for low CP students is achieved using relaxation only. If you do this exercise correctly, you should notice that your pulse or heart rate is lower after the session.
For most people, this is a transitory (temporary) exercise. (Heart and hypertension patients should stick with this exercise until they get over 20 s CP and reduce or lower their high blood pressure to normal levels without medication.) Practice this exercise for 2-3 minutes so that you get a clear sensation of your relaxed diaphragmatic exhalation. (You can or even should wear the belt during this exercise, if you are not sure about your ability to breathe using your diaphragm only. The belt will prevent you from having any chest breathing. Its use is described in Module 8.)
Note. On this site, you can get my PDF book that is called "Advanced Buteyko Breathing Exercises" (about 124 pages, 12 USD) or my Kindle book (on Amazon.com) with the same title. This book goes into details and provides a comprehensive overview of specifics and effects related to Buteyko exercises.
Reference pages: Breathing norms and medical facts:
- Breathing norms: Parameters, graph, and description of the normal breathing pattern
- 6 breathing myths: Myths and superstitions about breathing and body oxygenation (prevalence: over 90%)
- Hyperventilation: Definitions of hyperventilation: their advantages and weak points
- Hyperventilation syndrome: Western scientific evidence about prevalence of chronic hyperventilation in patients with chronic conditions (37 medical studies)
- Normal minute ventilation: Small and slow breathing at rest is enjoyed by healthy subjects (14 studies)
- Hyperventilation prevalence: Present in over 90% of normal people (24 medical studies)
- HV and hypoxia: How and why deep breathing reduces oxygenation of cells and tissues of all vital organs
- Body-oxygen test (CP test) : How to measure your own breathing and body oxygenation (two in one) using a simple DIY test
- Body oxygen in healthy: Results for the body-oxygen test for healthy people (27 medical studies)
- Body oxygen in sick : Results for the body-oxygen test for sick people (14 medical studies)
- Buteyko Table of Health Zones: Clinical description and ranges for breathing zones: from the critically ill (severely sick) up to super healthy people with maximum possible body oxygenation
- Morning hyperventilation: Why people feel worse and critically ill people are most likely to die during early morning hours
References: pages about CO2 effect:
- Vasodilation: CO2 expands arteries and arterioles facilitating perfusion (or blood supply) to all vital organs
- The Bohr effect: How and why oxygen is released by red blood cells in tissues
- Cell oxygen levels: How alveolar CO2 influences oxygen transport
- Oxygen transport: O2 transport is controlled by vasoconstriction-vasodilation and the Bohr effects, both of which rely on CO2
- Free radical generation: Reactive oxygen species are produced within cells due to anaerobic cell respiration caused by cell hypoxia
- Inflammatory response: Chronic inflammation in fueled by the hypoxia-inducible factor 1, while normal breathing reduces and eliminates inflammation
- Nerve stabilization: People remain calm due to calmative or sedative effects of carbon dioxide in neurons or nerve cells
- Muscle relaxation: Relaxation of muscle cells is normal at high CO2, while hypocapnia causes muscular tension, poor posture and, sometimes, aggression and violence
- Bronchodilation: Dilation of airways (bronchi and bronchioles) is caused by carbon dioxide, and their constriction by hypocapnia (low CO2)
- Blood pH: Regulation of blood pH due to breathing and regulation of other bodily fluids
- CO2: lung damage: Elevated carbon dioxide prevents lung injury and promotes healing of lung tissues
- CO2: Topical carbon dioxide can heal skin and tissues
- Synthesis of glutamine in the brain, CO2 fixation, and other chemical reactions
- Deep breathing myth: Ignorant and naive people promote the idea that deep breathing and breathing more air at rest is beneficial for health
- Breathing control: How is our breathing regulated? Why hypocapnia makes breathing uneven, irregular and erratic.
Go back to: Learning Buteyko breathing exercises
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