Did you know that how we breathe can have an immediate effect on pain?
By altering our breathing pattern we can either increase or reduce pain so using our breath can be an incredibly powerful tool for pain managment.
Have you ever noticed yourself holding your breath in response to fear or discomfort? We also tense up and hold our breath in anticipation of something we are fearful of, like for example getting a shot, and most often it hurts more as a result.
In childbirth we call this the “fear–tension–pain” cycle. When laboring women are worried about the pain of birth they become tense. Holding this tension in the body leads to increased pain, which promotes even more fear and tension. An altered breathing pattern is our bodies natural resonse to fear and tension, we hold our breath in order to wake our bodies up. Sometimes the natural reflex is to breathe shallowly and high in the chest in an attempt to pull away from the unpleasant sensation of fear.
In contrast, deep belly breathing where you breathe rhythmically in and out of your nose deep down through your diaphram into your belly, eases pain and can reduce your stress and tension. In yoga we use Pranayama which frees the breath and allows energy to flow through the body. It has the effect of energizing, relaxing and healing and allows for a more balanced body.
So the next time you find yourself holding your breath out of fear or pain, try taking three deep breaths in and out of your nose, letting the exhale last longer than the inhale. Do a roving body check to see where tension might remain and try breathing deeper into those areas. You might be surprised at how good it feels!