Ashford Clinic Blog
The Link Between Breathing and Digestion
If you suffer from indigestion, you should know about the vital connection between good breathing habits and digestive tract health.
Belly ache nation
Here’s a pretty shocking number: people suffering from digestive diseases account for more than 100 million visits to doctors every year. Stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea – all these are common complaints that drive people to seek medical attention. High on the list of the most frequently prescribed drugs are medicines for treating such conditions as indigestion, gas and gastroesophageal reflux.
You are how you eat
Did you realize that some of the blame for these gastric complaints falls on the eater? It’s not only which foods you choose to eat that matters – how you go about the meal is very important to how it ‘sits,’ and how well you digest your meals.
Two of the most important things you can do to help your digestion are to sit right and breathe through your nose.
Come on, admit it – how many meals a day do you eat standing up, or sitting in the car or lounging on the couch? When you do sit at the table to eat, do you sit up straight, or do you slouch over to read or check your phone? Well, if you’re not sitting up straight, you are distorting your digestive tract, interfering with the muscles that help your stomach digest your food (the medical term for this is peristalsis), and worse. If you hunch over, you restrict the girdle of abdominal muscles that encircles your stomach, both restricting peristalsis and cutting off the passage of gases (OK, burps) that comes naturally with digesting a meal. There’s also an effect of reduced blood circulation to the stomach and digestive tract, exactly when these organs need blood and the oxygen it conveys to nourish the your body. And there’s one more vital effect of bad posture on your digestion – your airway . . .
Breathing deeply, through the nose, offers a basket of positive effects on posture, circulation and most of all, digestion. Indeed, there’s a small medical study involving 19 adults who have mild gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. GERD is an uncomfortable, even damaging condition that occurs when the powerful digestive acids in your stomach move up into your esophagus, which is the pathway that connects the throat to the stomach. The irritation that follows – for many people, it feels like a burning sensation in the chest; the effect of GERD is popularly known as heartburn. Subjects in the study practiced a modified yoga technique called abdominal or ‘belly’ breathing,’ Their heartburn was severe enough that they used acid-suppressing proton-pump inhibitors, including medicines such as omeprazole (brand name Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid) and esomeprazole (Nexium). A physical therapist helped them to learn belly breathing, and the subjects agreed to perform the technique every day for 30 minutes. After a month, measurements showed less acid buildup. Nine months later, the patients who stuck with this routine were found to be using much less medication, reducing their intake to about a third of the medicine they were taking before.
Try this simple digestion exercise: Sit up straight and practice breathing deeply and slowly through your nose, in and out, using the muscles of your diaphragm. Try taking as many as five slow, measured breaths in and out before your first bite of food. Inhale and exhale slowly enough to keep from growing dizzy or light-headed. As you eat, take small bites, and chew each one thoroughly. Remember to breathe regularly. Many people have the habit of letting their breath go shallow and irregular while concentrating on the task at hand. If that’s you, take a mid-meal breathing break, to help establish the habit of slow and steady breathing. Another possible benefit of this approach is that you might find yourself eating less. It’s a commonly accepted notion that when we wolf down our food, we consume more calories than we would if we pause to let our stomach tell us when it’s satisfied and stop eating before we’re stuffed.
After your meal, make sure you stand, or if you remain seated, practice good posture and continue your regular nose breathing for at least half an hour. If you slump or lie down, you could be heading back into the discomfort and even pain of GERD.
And there it is – the not-so-secret relationship between good breathing habits and digestive tract health. Bon appetit!
Bear in mind, this advice is NOT necessarily for people who have been diagnosed with a serious digestive illness. If you have such a diagnosis, or if you think you might be suffering from a serious condition, please consult a medical professional.