Use Horizontal Breathing To Support Your Diabetes Care

Since breathing is automatic, we may not know whether we are horizontal or vertical breathers, or that this difference matters.

How we breathe matters because it affects all aspects of our health, many related to diabetes management including quality of sleep, stress levels, and eating habits. Breathing well reduces inflammation, supports good digestive, and cardiovascular function, boosts energy, mood, the immune system, and helps alleviate pain, and anxiety.

For optimal well-being, we were born breathing horizontally—our belly puffing out and our ribs expanding with each in-breath. Just ask a four-year old to take a deep breath and they’ll demonstrate it for you. Though horizontal breathing, often called belly breathing, is a cornerstone of mental and physical health, many of us transition to vertical breathing before reaching puberty, or shortly thereafter.

Going Vertical

As vertical breathers inhale, the chest and shoulders rise, making us feel bit taller. Unfortunately, neck and shoulder muscles were not designed for breathing, so our lungs do not fill properly. This signals the nervous system that we are “stressed-out,” even when we’re not.

Our actual breathing muscles include the intercostals running between our ribs, the diaphragm, the abdominal obliques, and the pelvic floor. These muscles expand outward or downward as we inhale, widening the body.

We become vertical breathers partly owed to all the sitting we do, putting our body into an unnatural posture several hours per day. We can also acquire bad breathing habits through sports, and by wearing constrictive clothing such as compression garments, tight waist bands, or bra straps. Pulling our stomach in to look thinner, and holding tension in the abdomen forces our breath upward as well.

Relearning Horizontal

To relearn horizontal breathing we must undo our vertical habit through awareness, re-engage the diaphragm, and strengthen our atrophied breathing muscles with practice. A great time to do this is before rising in the morning, or just after turning in at night:

  1. Relax the abdominal muscles and place one hand on your belly.
  2. Slowly inhale, feeling the abdomen rise as you bring air into the bottom portion of your lungs.
  3. Continue the inhale, noticing how the ribs expand outward as the lungs continue to fill.
  4. Finally, as the uppermost part of the lungs expand, notice your collar bone rising.
  5. Pause a moment, then gently exhale from the top of the lungs to the bottom.
  6. As the exhalation ends, slightly contract your abdominal muscles to push residual air from the lungs. Repeat steps one through six several times.

We can also learn about belly breathing and teach it to our children by reading them the book Sea Otter Cove by Lori Lite. Sea Otter Cove is a delightfully illustrated story using sea otters, and a sea child to teach the importance and skill of belly breathing for health, and relaxation.

To Our Advantage

Since we’re going to be breathing anyway, we might as well do it correctly—and to our health’s advantage. Though horizontal breathing may not directly impact A1C or post-prandial glucose levels, it significantly supports and strengthens all our body’s systems. This, in turn, helps us stabilize our blood sugar, and ward off diabetes complications.

Luckily, dismantling it [vertical breathing] is fairly easy because somewhere in your body, you remember having breathed horizontally…[and since horizontal breathing] does make you feel better, you start doing it. ~ Belisa Vranich, Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve Your Mental and Physical Health

Sources: Chopra; Mercola
Photo credit: Edgar Jimenez

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