If you missed the first post in the series, The Yoga Couch, get it below.
After getting comfy on the Yoga Couch, it’s time to breathe. You can spend as little as 2’ a day to reap the benefits listed below.
The Rest & Digest Breath
Breath is essential to daily living. We breathe every minute of every day of our lives. Yet, most of our breath goes unnoticed by us. It is involuntary. Or so we think it is. Our breath is very much under our control, and it is the forgotten vital sign. Our other, more popular vital signs, like blood pressure and pulse, are taken every time we visit a doctor’s office so we know how important they are.
But how about our respiratory rate? The respiratory or breath rate is a measure of how many breaths you can take in a minute. Normal respiratory rate is around 12-18 breaths per minute, with anything over that indicative of critical illness or poor stress response. The respiratory rate has been called “the forgotten vital sign” by many researchers, because good breathing is vital for recovery and maintenance of all body processes, including how we feel, think, and digest food.
Good breath habits are essential to enjoying a high quality of life. There is a “Gold Standard” breath type, and it has many names. It enables you to “Rest & Digest.” Some of the names for this “Gold Standard” breath include:
- Deep Belly Breath
- Abdominal Breath
- Abdomino-diaphragmatic, or AD Breath
- Diaphragmatic Breath
What is the Gold Standard AD Breath good for?
AD Breath is 1 of 2 Functional Breath Patterns that you will want to master before you can truly dig into doing yoga postures (or any movement at all really!). I’ll introduce the other Functional Breath Pattern later in this series.
To start practicing AD Breath, make sure you are comfortable and at ease, like on the Yoga Couch. At least at first you want to be comfortable. As you get better with it and master AD Breath you can practice doing it in stressful situations, which will improve your resilience and stress response. That’s good for us as individuals and as a society. Imagine how much closer we would be to world peace if everyone knew how to control their stress response!
AD Breath can be practiced in any posture but start with Yoga Couch. The breath practice which follows is good for (Garner 2016):
- Management of acid reflux (Eherer et al., 2012).
- Reducing anxiety and hyperarousal by fostering relaxation and sleep.
- Lowering blood pressure (Jerath et al 2006).
- Downregulation of sympathetic tone & overall allostatic load (relax the nervous system and prevent chronic disease) (Turankar et al., 2013, Adhana et al., 2013, Jyotsna et al., 2013, Tharion et al., 2012, Jerath et al., 2006, Kuntsevich et al., 2010, Sivakumar et al., 2011).
- Mastering relaxing into comfortable positions and improving your response in stressful situations.
- Entraining the brain to improve stress response and cognition, emotional regulation, somatic expression, and overall mood and behavior (Streeter et al., 2012, Brown & Gerbarg 2009).
- Managing stress.
- Normalizing shoulder, hip, and spine alignment, when practiced with Yoga Couch.
- Pain relief.
- Improving heart rate variability (HRV) which reduces risk for chronic disease.
- Improving lung functioning.
- Help manage depression, schizophrenia, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and sleep disorders (Balasubramaniam et al., 2013).
- Supporting natural spinal curves or what is also called “plumb line alignment,” when practiced with Yoga Couch.
- Improving posture and postural feedback (standing taller and more confident).
- Caring for or preventing generalized joint and back pain.
- Minimizing breathing problems if you have allergies, congestion, asthma, COPD, or similar breathing issue.
- Easing myofascial tension (sensation of pulling or tightness in the body).
- Easing neural tension (numbness or tingling in hands or feet).
- Improving vocal projection (if you are a teacher, public speaker, singer, or instrumentalist, or performance artist).
- Improve body awareness and the somatic experience.
- Trauma-sensitive yoga
- Resetting the stress response and returning to “Rest and Digest” when a stressful situation arises.
Practice with Me
Once you have the knack of practicing Yoga Couch – spend anywhere from 2′ upward a day resting over the Yoga Couch to work toward the above benefits.
Troubleshooting Your Breath: You Always Have Options!
Start with AD Breath first, and remember you can always do this in Yoga Couch:
Three Part Breath
If you are having trouble establishing a deeper belly breath in AD Breath, try this practice:
If you are having trouble leveling out or evening out the breath, and the breath seems uneven or ragged around the edges, or it seems like you can’t get enough breath in or out, try this practice:
If you are having trouble exhaling because you have allergies, asthma, COPD, or other breathing trouble (even natural conditions like pregnancy can cause short term breathing problems), then try this practice:
These breath patterns are incredibly helpful if you have trouble practicing AD Breath, and each of them can enhance the power of your stress response and teach you to check in with your mind-body sensations, which can change your pain experience (whether physical or emotional) for the better!
All peer reviewed scientific journals cited here can be found in:
Garner, G. Medical Therapeutic Yoga. Handspring Pub Ltd., Edinburgh, UK. 2016.
About the Author
Ginger has spent 20+ years helping people (mostly moms!) with chronic pain as a physical therapist, athletic trainer, and professional yoga therapist. Ginger is the author of Medical Therapeutic Yoga, now in its 4th foreign translation, founder of ProYogaTherapy Institute®, codirector of Living Well Yoga in Healthcare, and most recently ran for State Senate in NC.
This and all blog posts related to yoga and/or physical therapy on www.gingergarner.com are not a substitute for medical advice and are not a prescription or program for individualized physical therapy. You must seek the advice of your health care provider and, only after a thorough physical examination and clearance, participate in any movement or exercise program.
All photos: ©2019. Ginger Garner. All rights reserved.