( By Dr Ramesh Kapadia )
Abdominal breathing is one of the simplest yet most powerful stress management techniques. Your diaphragm is a large muscle which is located between your chest and abdomen. When your breathe in, diaphragm moves down and your abdomen swells up ; when you breathe out the diaphragm moves up and the abdomen moves in. A new born child breathes with the abdomen. As the child gets older, breathing becomes partially intercostal ( i.e. chest breathing). During adult life most of us breathe only through the chest. Abdominal breathing is almost forgotten. So much so that when the person tries to inhale, his chest expands but the abdomen moves in, which is abnormal. It makes the breathing process less effective. Lower lobes of the lungs are perfused with greater amount of blood than the upper and middle lobes. By abdominal breathing lower lobes get properly ventilated. This is the physical advantage of abdominal breathing. But there is more to abdominal breathing than the simple physical advantage. It has been noted that during sleep and relaxed state the breathing automatically becomes abdominal. During anxiety state breathing becomes rapid and is fully inter-costal. When the individual purposely breathes slowly and deeply through the abdomen the effect of stress on the body is reduced. This is borne out by favourable change in the brain wave pattern (alpha) during slow abdominal breathing. To practise abdominal breathing, sit comfortably with your back straight. Always breathe through the nose which filters warm air. Place your right hand on the chest and left hand on your abdomen. This will help you to be aware of your abdominal muscles as you breathe. As you begin to inhale, your left hand on the abdomen should begin to rise, but your right hand should move very little. Now exhale as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. Once again your left hand should move in as you exhale but your right hand should move very little. This is abdominal breathing.
Breathing through your abdomen will gradually become automatic if you practise it on regular basis. If you are having a hard time learning abdominal; breathing, then lie on the floor in the resting position and gently place a soft weight ( small book) on your abdomen. Abdominal breathing will cause the weight to rise and fall with your respirations.