Chronic pain can put your body in a prolonged state of fight, flight, or freeze mode. Meaning the body can experience increased heart rate, blood pressure, breath rate, stress and, decreased immune support. These symptoms may become overwhelming in addition to the physical pain the body already has endured.
Luckily, there is a way to reverse these symptoms by practicing one simple activity that humans have been doing since birth: breathing. Keep reading to learn how breathing can help reduce pain and how to begin practicing this technique!
First, Let's Address Chronic Pain As a Form Of Chronic Stress
Chronic pain is a form of chronic stress, which means a person with chronic pain is constantly under distress. The brain may have a constant impression that the body is in danger- regardless if there is an actual cause for a threat. Triggers can be anything from movements, foods, emotions, thoughts, engaging with negative people, or being in uncomfortable places.
How Stress Changes Breathing Patterns
Say you're in your car headed to the grocery store, and a car horn beeps behind you. Your immediate response is to quickly jump in your seat, search your surroundings by looking both ways, and check your rearview mirrors. While checking your safety, your breath rate speeds up, your heart rate increases, muscles become tense, and your blood rushes to essential fight/flight organs.
Luckily, it turns out that the horn beep wasn't for you! The friendly guy in the car behind you was waving to someone he knew that was nearby. Phew! You begin to calm down after realizing that you aren't in any danger by letting out a deep sigh of relief. After a few deep breaths, you safely continue to drive on over to the grocery store. Your breath rate decreases, heart rate returns to normal, muscles relax, and blood becomes evenly distributed throughout the entire body again.
Using Breathing Techniques to Lower Stress
Deep breathing, like a sigh of relief when you realize you aren't in danger, helps return your systems to normal. The act of inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly calms the mind from the sirens it has perceived as danger.
So, if you are experiencing spasms, aches, and all other types of pain that make you feel overwhelmed, out of control, or worried, then breathing can help decrease these exact sirens. Slow belly breathing can allow you to assess triggers and communicate with your brain that you are, in fact, not in danger and that the particular movement you are attempting is well-thought-out and safe. If you happen to be triggered by a negative event that causes increased pain, take a deep breath, and think of a holistic technique that has helped you solve a similar problem like this in the past.
What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?
Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, consists of fully breathing from the stomach instead of the modern-day chest and neck muscle breathing. The diaphragm is the primary breathing muscle in the body and is located below your lungs. The practice of diaphragmatic breathing begins through the nose to fill the lungs with air and then slowly releases air through the mouth as your diaphragm begins to contract and close while tightening the core.
Practicing one to three minutes daily can help reduce heart rate, decrease breath rate, ease muscle tension, and calm the brain so that it reduces pain signals.
For a free breathwork session to help reduce pain, stress, and anxiety, click this link here!
How to Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing to Reduce Pain Signals
1) Choose a safe space that you feel comfortable in. This space can be quiet or with light, mellow music that is not too distracting.
2) Choose a comfortable position you'd like to practice breathing in:
a) Sit on a chair with your back supported with a small blanket or towel behind your lumbar spine, feet are evenly distributed and touching the floor, hips and knees are at a 90-degree angle.
b) You can also lie down on your bed or yoga mat. Grab a few pillows to make your practice more comfortable. One pillow for neck support and two pillows or a bolster for leg support. ‘
3) Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
4) Inhale slowly through the nose for three seconds, noticing how the belly rises and fills with air as your chest stays relaxed.
5) Form an O with your lips, placing the tip of the tongue on the roof of your mouth. Begin to exhale slowly, noticing the belly flatten and the abdominal muscles tighten.
6) Repeat for a few minutes, noticing the thoughts that run through your mind, but being careful not to make any judgments. You can also think of empowering affirmations during your breathing practice to encourage a positive and peaceful mindset.