CARM Controlled Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique
(Step 1) Inhale – breathing IN through your NOSE (stomach and lower rib cage expands and inflates - inhalation should take approximately 4 - 5 seconds);
(Step 2) Control - at the top of the inhale control the breath and PAUSE for a count of 2 - 3 then;
(Step 3) Exhale – breathing OUT through your MOUTH (stomach and lower ribcage contracts and deflates – exhale should take approx 5 seconds)
The “Controlled Diaphragmatic Breathing” cycle should ideally take between (11 - 13 seconds). This may vary however depending upon the level of stress you are exposed to and your level of fitness.
The CARM Breathing Technique Explained
The CARM “Controlled Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique” is a deep breathing technique / exercise designed to help you respond to situations where you are affected by stress.
Most people feel that they breathe normally when affected by stress, however what tends to happen is that we breathe in a shallow more laboured way due to the affects of stress and the physiological changes that occur within our body. Stress causes the stimulation and release of the brain chemical dopamine, which stimulates the release of adrenalin and other associated stress hormones i.e. Cortisol. This stimulation shuts down our parasympathetic nervous system so that energy can be channeled into our sympathetic nervous system. This physiological change affects our breathing and the more our breathing becomes shallow and laboured the less air / oxygen per breath we take into our lungs.
As stress takes hold we tend to tense up, including tensing our stomach muscles. This has the affect of restricting the contraction and relaxation action required for our diaphragm, which is the main force behind our breathing. (Note: The diaphragm is a flattish muscle situated in a horizontal plane between the lungs and the stomach)
To breathe in a way that compensates for the affects of stress we need to be able to inhale deeply so that our diaphragm can fully contract and draw downwards so as to create a vacuum in the thoracic cavity. This vacuum then allows the lungs to fully inflate by drawing air into the body through the trachea. When we are tense, this movement of the diaphragm is restricted and therefore reduces our ability to fully expand our lungs, which causes a reduction in the amount of air / oxygen that we can take in.
The less air per breath we take in requires us to take an even greater number of breaths to compensate. By compensating in this way it further influences the physiological changes occurring within our body, including the constriction of blood vessels. This change between the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our lungs causes less oxygen to be delivered to the brain, heart, major muscles and the rest of the body.
Having a restriction on our breathing can have a dramatic effect on our physiology, our internal state of relaxation and ultimately our performance under stress. By compensating and using the “Controlled Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique” you will better control your inhale and exhale breathing actions, which will provide you with more energy for the body and the working muscles. It will also allow you to supply and nourish your brain with greater levels of oxygen, allowing your brain to effectively operate and control the physiological functions of your body more efficiently. This helps to create a more positive relaxed internal state enabling you to manage the stressors in a much more effective way.
KEY points to remember about Controlled Diaphragmatic Breathing:
1. Under stress or when you feel “stressed” – it is important to consciously remind yourself and even tell yourself to “deep breathe”. It’s an action that will not happen without conscious thought and positive effort.
2. When you INHALE - inhale through your nose and as you do so your stomach and lower rib cage should inflate / expand. (This is a counter-intuitive action for most people who instinctively go the other way (i.e. stomach flattens).
a. During inhalation the diaphragm muscle contracts causing it to move downwards into the abdomen. This decreases the pressure in the thorax region (lung region), because there is now more space. The negative pressure creates a pressure differential between the lungs and the atmosphere causing air to come into the lungs. Air then rushes in from outside the body, via the nose and fills the lungs. The alveoli in the lungs, then takes the air and sends it around the body via the blood-stream.
3. When you get to the top of your inhalation and your stomach and rib cage are fully expanded, control the breathing by pausing for a count of 2 – 3, before you start your exhale.
4. When you EXHALE - exhale out through your mouth and your stomach and lower rib cage should deflate or contract inwards. (It is important to note that the exhale needs to be a full exhale as the amount of air / oxygen you can subsequently take in on the inhale is a function of how much air and carbon dioxide you breathe out on the exhale.
a. On exhalation the diaphragm relaxes and moves upwards thereby increasing the air pressure in the thorax area. This action forces air that was not removed by the alveoli and air that has returned to the lungs from the blood-stream, back into the atmosphere via the mouth.
After you practice this controlled diaphragmatic breathing technique correctly a few times, you will experience increased levels of oxygen in the brain. This may give you a slight light headed and relaxed feeling, which is an indicator that you are on the right path to gaining the benefits the technique has to offer.
If you want to be able to use this technique effectively during times of stress then practice is the key. I’ve found the best place to practice on a daily basis is when I have stopped at a set of traffic lights or when I’m just walking to the office at the start of the day.
Find the time to practice this technique and you will enjoy the positive benefits controlled diaphragmatic breathing has to offer.