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This guided meditation of MIDL Retraining Autonomous Breathing is the first stage in lowering the symptoms of anxiety. Many of the symptoms of anxiety arise due to the stress response disengaging the diaphragm from the process of respiration. Re-engagement of the diaphragm in autonomous breathing switches off chest hyperventilation and allows depleted C02 levels to rebalance.
To help you feel the diaphragm muscle cough a few times now, notice when you do this you can feel your diaphragm muscle moving up and down within your belly.
Now laugh, can you feel the movement in your belly?
This is also your diaphragm muscle; it is this muscle that is engaged in autonomous breathing and the one you strengthen during this mindfulness training. You will notice that when you cough or laugh your diaphragm moves down and up quickly. While useful for coughing, laughing, talking or singing this fast movement of our diaphragm does not help us to breathe deeply and lower our anxiety experience.
For this exercise we start by laying down flat on the floor, we do this because for most people it is easier in the beginning to feel the movement of the diaphragm this way. After a few practices this same exercise can also be done seated or in a balanced, standing position.
Lying down, we place a pillow under our head and a rolled blanket under our knees to protect our back if needed. We then place our hands with one palm either side of our belly with fingers touching in the middle just below the belly button slightly pressing them inwards.
Pressing lightly with our finger tips is useful so that we will be able to feel the pressure from the movement within our belly. Breathing is done in and out through our nose for health reasons as well as it creating a back-pressure with the diaphragm for a slow, calming out-breath.
We then breathe in gently with the focus of slowly lifting up our fingers. We are careful of over-straining at this stage, we see how gently and effortlessly we can breathe into our belly. Also if we find it hard to breathe down into our belly, feeling tightness below our ribs, it is usually because we are misunderstanding breathing with the diaphragm and trying to breathe in using our chest instead of our diaphragm.
Once we have found a rhythm in breathing we make the in-breath and out-breath slow, particularly emphasizing the slowness of the breath as it goes out. This keeps the C02 in the lungs longer and helps the imbalance of C02 levels associated with stress breathing to return to balance.
If our breathing rate is short this is ok. If chest stress breathing has become natural for us then it is normal for the diaphragm movement on the in-breath to only last for short time - this is part of why we are doing this exercise. Because of the shortness in the movement of the diaphragm in the beginning we may feel as if we are not getting enough air. If needed to we can take an extra breath.
Once the movement of the diaphragm slows down and lengthens and we will become accustomed to breathing slowly through our nose, the feeling of needing more air will go away. Our aim should be to lengthen the in-breath and out-breath by slowing down the diaphragm movement. This is done by paying attention to the very beginning of the movement of the in-breath, starting it slowly, and paying attention to the very beginning of the out-breath and also starting it slowly. In this way our breathing will lengthen.
The most important part to focus on is learning to release the out-breath slowly. We do this to allow the depleted C02 levels caused by the hyperventilation to re-balance, and as a basis of using the breathing as a vehicle for deep mental relaxation during MIDL softening techniques.
There are certain things that we need to be aware of that can hinder diaphragm breathing exercises. During this process if you feel a tightness of the breath as you breathe in, it is possible that you are breathing from the top of your chest and using your in-breath to try to push the diaphragm downwards – this will not work.
The diaphragm is a dome and cannot be pushed down – it needs to be pulled. It can be helpful to think of your diaphragm as being an upside down plunger, when you pull the handle downward the plunger will suck in air, as you push it back up it expels it. To move your diaphragm, think of pulling it downwards rather than pushing it.
Placing your finger tips below your belly button and pressing in slightly is helpful to feel this. The focus is then on breathing so that you lift your finger tips upwards rather then on trying to take a deep breath. Once you can feel the movement of the diaphragm your next task is to train your breathing to move from your belly up into your chest. As mentioned earlier when we experience stress our breathing reverses and as we take a breath in, moves from the top of our chest downwards. The second part of this exercise reverses this breathing.
It is helpful to have one palm below your belly button and one on the top of your chest below your collar bone. You now start your breath in your belly so that your lower hand starts to lift and then start to move the breath to the top of your chest.
It is also helpful to push your ribs outwards and to physically help your chest lift and open in this early stage. Stress breathing lowers the flexibility of your rib cage through its lack of movement so we need to help our chest expand in the beginning.
As your diaphragm moves down your lungs will start to fill, as you make space by raising your chest you will feel them fill to the top of your chest. Now allow your whole body to relax as the breath goes out. You then repeat it again: belly – ribs – top of your chest – relax. Belly – ribs – top of your chest – relax. With practice your lungs will raise your chest by itself and you will no longer have to help it.
Once you have completed this next stage your task is to get out of the way – literally. You allow your breath to fully go out then relax and wait. Your brain will then fire a signal and take over the breathing for you, your diaphragm will have re-engaged and move freely and gently within your belly.
Be careful of mental control at this time, it can be helpful to bring your attention away from the breathing and into the touch of your body on the floor.
At this stage we need to allow the breathing to happen autonomously. You are now working with two things, relaxing the minds desire to control the diaphragm and return back to stress breathing and also being aware of the gentle movement of the diaphragm in your belly so that your brain starts to realise that this is what breathing is supposed to feel like.
This training also has an affect on our daily life, the sensitivity we develop to the breathing process, allows us to see every time stress breathing switches on. It can be helpful at first, throughout the day, to ask yourself one question :
“Where am I breathing now, is it in the chest or in the belly?”
If your breathing has moved up into your chest then the stress response has been switched on – you are resisting something - this is ok - it is habitual. You can re-engage natural, autonomous breathing by placing your palms just below your belly button and lightly pressing your finger tips inward. Take slow, deep breaths so that the lower part of your belly presses against your finger tips.
Make the breaths in your belly slow and gentle especially emphasising the slowness of the out-breath, this engages the diaphragm muscle. In-breaths and out-breaths are taken through the nose.
After these three breaths you may feel a little light headed, this is normal when we re-engage the diaphragm, just allow the depleted C02 levels 10 seconds to rebalance and you will feel mental clarity and calmness return to you.
This gentle movement of your diaphragm in your belly is now an extremely sensitive reflection of your state of mind. Any time you mentally resist anything throughout the day, your breathing pattern will reflect this – and because of the sensitivity developed, you will notice the very moment your breathing pattern changes. Your sensitivity to changes within your breathing patterns then becomes the foundation from which to observe heart & mind.
From this viewing platform you will be able to observe any time your mind resists an experience at one of your six senses throughout the day.
On observing this change in your breathing you will then gently re-engage your diaphragm with three slow, gentle breaths in the belly, then Soften Into any emotional response through bringing the breath up into your chest and relaxing with a slow out-breath. In this way the stress response is turned off, all resistance dissolved and through Mindful non-participation you start to target and decondition any habitual defensive emotional responses or personality traits that arise within you.
You will start to strip back the layers of resistance to life, you start to Soften as a person, become less defensive, more open, the path becomes clearer to you.
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, Meditation Instructor from Meditation in The Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you