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Belly Breathing for Fertility

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a blog by Beth Heller and Tami Quinn, Pulling Down the Moon, July 19, 2010

It’s very easy to eye-roll when someone tells you that deep breathing may good for your fertility. It sounds:

    1) too simple to be true and
    2) dangerously close to those polarizing words “just relax.”

Yet, there are strong scientifically-acknowledged reasons why breathing may be an important catalyst in the fertility process.

Two Types of Breathing

Essentially, scientists have determined that humans have two basic breathing patterns.

    1) The first is “thoracic-dominant ventilation,” which is typically characterized by a rapid, irregular breathing rate and a low tidal volume (amount of air that is exchanged in a given cycle of breath). In the thoracic pattern, the abdominal muscles are rigid (think suck in your gut!) and the shoulders and chest muscles tend to be tense. When you watch someone use thoracic breathing, you can often even see their shoulders rise and fall with the breath.

    2) The second breathing pattern, “abdominal-diaphragmatic ventilation,” a.k.a. “belly breath” has a slow, rhythmic respiration rate and a relatively large tidal volume. In the abdominal pattern the abdominal muscles are relaxed, and the belly moves outward on the inhale and relaxes back in on the exhale. You will not see shoulders move when someone is breathing into their belly. Each of these breathing patterns is associated with distinct physiological effects. The one we want to use to promote fertility is definitely the belly breath.

Slow, rhythmic abdominal breathing creates a rise in CO2 in the lung arterioles and, by consequence, the blood. This increased (but still normal) level of CO2 induces vascular relaxation, promotes blood flow to the brain, increases the excretion of acidic metabolites through the kidneys and increases the transfer of oxygen from hemoglobin to tissues. Thoracic breathing, on the other hand, works in the opposite manner, decreasing CO2 levels and causing constriction of blood flow in the heart and brain, and less oxygen transfer to the tissues. Since good blood flow and tissue oxygenation is important for fertility, these vascular actions are important. Using belly breath has also been shown to shift the hormonal milieu in the body from “fight or flight,” to “rest, digest and nest.”

Abdominal breathing also works for fertility on a mechanical level. When we relax the belly and breathe into the abdomen, our diaphragm muscle contracts downward. This action promotes the circulation of lymph resulting in improved clearance of metabolic waste. The movement also massages the liver, stomach, intestines and reproductive organs and stretches the connective tissue that surrounds the heart. When we release a belly breath, the upward motion of the muscle promotes the venous return of blood to the heart. Thoracic breathing, which is rapid and shallow, does not confer these benefits.

Take Time for Abdominal Breathing

So make sure you take a few minutes a day to focus on your breath. Identify your breathing pattern. Are your shoulders, back and neck rigid as you breathe? Is your belly moving? If you’re not using belly breath, try this exercise:

    1) Sit in a straight-backed chair with your feet flat on the floor or lie down.
    2) Place one hand on your belly.
    3) Close your eyes and begin to breathe in and out through your nose.
    4) Breathe deep into the abdomen, feeling your belly expand with the inhale.
    5) As you exhale, feel the hand and the belly gently move back toward the spine.

Continue this breathing pattern for 5-10 minutes. It may be helpful to visualize a balloon behind the navel that you inflate with the in-breath, and empty with the out-breath. With practice this will become your habitual breathing pattern and you will reap the fertility benefits of relaxation, circulation and a serene mind.

Be present, be positive…breathe into your belly!

Peace, Beth

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