#326 Deep breathing

Woops, I forgot to follow up on the very important topic of Stress&Pain... sorry to leave it hanging!
Here's the breakdown: Sometimes I get caught in the pain-stress cycle. I have a stress response going on in my body, I start breathing really shallow breaths and tense my muscles... this affects my pain levels, which stresses me further. Then I get afraid that I won't be able to bring the pain down again and get even more stressed... and... then I'm caught in a negative loop.

The best tool I've learned to break a stress-pain response is to take a few minutes to practice deep breathing. Apparently, just the act of using the deep belly-breathing that we do in deep and comfortable sleep sends signals to the brain that "everything's ok, you can relax...". So even though nothing around me changes, my stress response is shut down and I can then start doing things to alleviate the coming pain flare.

If the pain is already spiraling, I put on a CD with 15 minute instructed deep breathing technique (part of a stress management kit). Then I can just listen to the instructions and do what it says. It always has some positive effect. If I catch the stress response earlier on in the cycle, I can do this:

1. Stop whatever I'm doing
2. Close my eyes
3. Inhale deeply through the nose while letting my belly expand to draw oxygen down to the lower part of the lungs
4. Hold my breath shortly
5. Release and repeat 10 times

This can actually be enough to break the negative pain/stress spiral. If I follow up immediately with some happy music and a 3 minute workout to get my circulation going, I may be able to stop an incoming pain flare.


  1. Dear Anna! I do the very same thing, inspired by my yoga training: Breathe deeply through my nose, expanding my rib cage (not my belly, though. Breathing into the rib cage will make you able to breath in even more air, as discovered by yogis thousand of years ago). The only time I really get stressed out now a days, is when I'm about to miss yoga class (ironic, right?)! This weekend I really learnt something about breathing, by a very experienced and anatomically educated pilates instructor. Finally I understood this cycle to the fullest! She explained the process in the body when you stop breathing properly: When the muscles don't get enough O2, they start to contract, they go into a sort of stand by-position, because the body knows that when the muscles suddenly are needed, they won't be able to react from total relaxation when underfed on O2. The idea would orinially be to run in panic from a lion at the savannah, I guess, but of course; No lions here - we only run from ourselves.
    So: When the muscles are in a tense position all the time, the muscle fibres are never totally at ease. And when never at ease - starting to hurt, causing you to stress even more, breathing even more shallow. This happenes not only when you're explicitly stressed, but also when you work by the computer and breath shallow and short at the top of your lunges. Hence: Shoulder aches and head aches. Interesting. Breath is a wonderful thing. I'm a fan of air, it turns out! Breathe on! All the best, Hilde

  2. Dear Hilde,
    Aha!!! That's a really good explanation! No wonder I notice a strong correlation between breathing, stress and muscle pain. And the expanding rib cage technique is also important, I notice it stretches lots of small muscles in the back and increases circulation. Hmmm, maybe I'd better do a mini breathing workout right now... :)
    Breathe on, sister!

  3. Breathing in the ONE thing that really helps me relax and work with my chronic pain. I don't have much experience with yoga, but I learned a lot about breathing and relaxing when I learned to dive! Underwater you can't fight with your body, you have to be calm and breathe slowly and be relaxed. Now when I feel the pain and pain-stress coming over me I close my eyes and try to imagine that I'm under water, gliding along a beautiful coral reef. Helps a lot!

  4. SerendipityCat, Yay, diving!!! Sounds like an amazing deep breathing trick:)