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MIDL 3/52: Retraining Autonomous Breathing


MIDL Retraining Autonomous Breathing is concerned with lowering the symptoms of stress and anxiety thereby creating a basis for the development of mindfulness of breathing in MIDL. It can be considered the first of the Softening skills developed within your MIDL mindfulness Training. Submit Your Question

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Purpose of Diaphragmatic Breathing

Your Question: What is the intended purpose, please, of diaphragmatic breathing? It feels so unnatural, as if my body is not receiving sufficient oxygen until I bring the breath into my chest.

Stephen Procter: Many people come to meditation under the pressure of stress within their lives. When the stress response is switched on, one of the ways it affects us is in the tightening or locking of the diaphragm muscle leading to chest stress breathing and hyperventilation.

For many of us, due to stress or trauma within our lives, the diaphragm muscle has been disengaged from respiration for long periods of time leading to its habitualisation and weakening. This weakness can be seen both in the range of movement of the diaphragm and also the speed in which it moves. Both this range and speed of movement affect our ability to autonomously breath with our diaphragm and upper chest stress breathing becomes normal for us.

The experience of not getting enough air when breathing in your belly may be a sign that your stress response has become habitualised and that your diaphragm muscle has weakened as a result. Upper chest stress breathing will then have become your habitual, natural way of breathing and needs to be deconditioned. This MIDL training teaches you how to do this.

MIDL Mindfulness Training 3/52: Retraining Autonomous Breathing strengthens and slows down the movement of the diaphragm thereby allowing the re-engagement of autonomous diaphragmatic breathing; switching off the stress response and removing the experience of anxiety. This then creates the foundation for mindfulness of breathing in MIDL due to its affect on calming the five hindrances to meditation.

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Use Mouth or Nose Breathing?

Your Question: For the deep breaths, do we breathe in through the nose, then out through the mouth? Or out through the nose too?

Stephen Procter: If your nose is not blocked or obstructed in any way then the mouth is kept closed with the tip of your tongue on the little node behind your two top teeth. The breath is always drawn in and out through the nose, never the mouth.

The nose prepares the air for your lungs by filtering it, moisturising it and regulating its temperature. On the out-breath the nose creates a relationship of back-pressure with the diaphragm creating a slow, calming out-breath. This slowness of the out-breath also allows re-absorption of CO2 necessary for the regulation of the respiration process.

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Diaphragm Breathing Difficulties

Your Question: I am finding breathing with my diaphragm difficult, do you have suggestions on why this would be and how I can improve my breathing patterns?

Stephen Procter: Learning to breathe using your diaphragm can be quite tricky at first especially if chest breathing has become normal to you. The diaphragm naturally engaged in the process of breathing is not anything special or unusual, it is how a baby or young child breathes all the time unless it is stressed or has experienced trauma.

For many of us chest stress breathing has become our normal, natural way of breathing. It therefore may not feel natural at first to re-engage the diaphragm when breathing.

The most common barrier to retraining diaphragmatic breathing is trying too hard to breathe down into your belly from your upper chest - (top of chest - ribs - belly).

Trying to breathe from the top of the chest downwards into our belly does not work because when we are stressed our diaphragm muscle locks under our rib cage and since it is a dome like shape, cannot be pushed down using force.

Diaphragmatic breathing has to be started from the V shaped muscle at the base of your abdominals below your belly button - (belly - ribs - upper chest).

To learn this, place your fingers just below your belly button while lying down; lightly pressing your fingers inwards. You then slowly extend the lower abdominal muscle upwards so that it lifts your fingers; you will notice that this draws air in through your nose. You then slowly lower your fingers and lower abdominals down again; you will notice that air goes back out of your nose.

At first this may feel artificial but with practice your diaphragm becomes stronger and the movement becomes smoother and more refined. Remember slowness of the movement of your lower abdominals is the key here. This slow movement causes the diaphragm to re-engage - it now moves autonomously and the stress response turns off temporarily creating a break in the anxious habitual pattern.

As you continue in your training you will then go through a process of learning to soften / relax any over-effort or resistance you feel in order to decondition the hyper-sensitivity of your stress response; changing habitual stress chest breathing patterns. There is a detailed article on the Meditation in the Shire website in the MIDL Anxiety Softening Room.

If you find this is all too much for you this is also ok, I recommend instead focusing on developing Stillness meditation MIDL Mindfulness Training 39 - 42/52. As Stillness becomes deeper your mind will find safety and your breathing patterns will naturally start to change.

This training becomes much easier.

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