The root of most relaxation techniques is a simple action we make day in and day out: breathing. Your breath is a powerful tool you can use at home to help manage pain, soothe stress and calm restlessness.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a deep-breathing exercise that works by activating the parasympathetic system, which controls your body’s relaxation response. Also called belly breathing, this breathing technique can relieve stress, lower your blood pressure, slow your heart rate and more.
Whether your discomfort is acute, chronic or post-surgical, diaphragmatic breathing works to alleviate the anxious, heightened state induced by pain. Calming your nervous system in this way not only reduces discomfort but also creates a friendlier, more comfortable environment for healing.
You can try diaphragmatic breathing anywhere, any time. We recommend finding a quiet environment where you can rest comfortably. If you have kids at home, invite them to join you for a few minutes to recharge during the day or to wind down before bed.
Follow these steps to breathe deeply to relax and reduce pain.
- Begin in a comfortable position, either sitting or lying on your back.
- Close your eyes and focus your attention on your breath.
- Your goal is to lengthen your breath. Inhale for five seconds and exhale for five seconds.
- Fill your lungs completely with each inhale. You should see your belly expand.
- Then with each exhale, bring your belly toward your spine as your empty your lungs.
- Bring your attention to an area of your body that feels painful, stiff or uncomfortable. With each exhale, focus on releasing that tension.
- Practice this breathing exercise for five to 15 minutes each day.
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This article was originally published on September 11, 2017, and has been updated on April 8, 2020.