Breathing Easier

Deep breaths can do more than energize you. Research points to their healing power for headaches, menstrual pain, and a host of other symptoms. Learn how to put that power to work.
What We Do Wrong

Shifting into overdrive may be an effective way to get everything done, but living from crisis to crisis can do a real number on your health. Your heart races, blood pressure increases, and your thinking becomes clouded by panic.

The prescription for overcoming all these effects is as plain as the nose on your face: deep breathing, specifically "belly breathing."

Belly breaths -- those deep enough to cause your abdomen, rather than your chest, to rise and fall -- fill your lungs with oxygen and affect your heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety levels. Just taking a few deep belly breaths stops your involuntary response to stress (breathlessness, pounding heart, and sweating) by signaling your nerves to tell your heart, lungs, stomach, and bladder to calm along with your breath.

"In our society, we are programmed to suck in our stomach and stick out our chest," says Chris Luth, a tai chi chuan teacher in Solana Beach, California.

As a result, the upper chest, specifically the muscles in your neck and upper back, takes over the chore of breathing. This can lead to the high blood pressure, racing heart, and shallow breath that fuel many of our ills, including headaches, heart disease, and hot flashes, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, director of integrative medicine at University of Arizona College of Medicine and author of the book Eight Weeks to Optimum Health (Fawcett, 1998).

Continued on page 2:  Deep Breath Benefits