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  • Daulton Physical Therapy and Fitness

Rest & Diaphragmatic Breathing

As Physical Therapists, we promote movement all the time. But your body also needs rest! Rest is critical for healing from an injury, for the detoxification process, and for balancing the activity in your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. We frequently work on addressing the mechanical stress on the nerves that make up the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Your ability to capitalize on the normalized tension in the nervous system by resting is a valuable component of your healing. Ongoing stress can make it difficult for your body to heal, and this is all too common in a world that does not promote rest. And learning to rest and calm your nervous system can have a helpful impact on chronic/persistent pain! So read on for some recommendations for rest.

Resting your mind and/or body might look like:

  • Taking a nap

  • Sitting quietly for 10 minutes

  • Lying down for 10 minutes

  • A 5-30 minute gentle walk

  • Allowing yourself time without noise, screens, work, social interactions, etc. – SILENCE.

  • Prayer or meditation

  • Using an app like Headspace, Hallow, or Calm to listen to a guided meditation or prayer

  • Reading a book (not a screen!)

  • Doing something creative that brings you alive, brings you joy, and helps you feel restored. Maybe that’s making

music, coloring, knitting, flower-arranging, painting, or cooking. Maybe you’re not sure what brings you joy - now is a really good time to try something. Start exploring!

  • Using small mental breaks when you notice yourself getting worked up. Come up with a calming/focusing phrase or prayer to help with this, such as “breathe,” “Jesus, give me patience for my blessings,” “be where your feet are,” or “one thing at a time.”

  • Using a grounding technique (see some ideas below)

  • Calm fight-or-flight mode with diaphragmatic breathing (see instructions below)

  • Grounding techniques:

  • 5 senses: Name 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste.

  • Keep a

notepad by your bed (or wherever you are resting) to jot down things that pop into your mind. Acknowledge them, write them down, and allow your mind to move on from them.

  • 4-7-8 breathing or 4x4 breathing (see below) - we all need to practice this daily.

  • Listen to a guided mindfulness reflection

Diaphragmatic breathing instructions:

Diaphragmatic breathing with verbal and tactile cues for technique and avoiding accessory muscle breathing, education on the purpose of this exercise as a precursor for core activation/stabilization and for dampening the sympathetic nervous system.

In a reclined position with your knees bent, place your hands on the sides of your abdomen, between your pelvis and your ribcage (“C”-shaped hand). Take slow deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Your breath should cause your abdomen to expand 360 degrees around, as if you are filling a balloon that is in your abdomen. Push your fingers away from the center of your body using your abdominal muscles as you inhale. Your chest should remain relatively still throughout the breath. Continue to take slow breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth.


1) Continuous inhale and exhale

2) 4x4 breathing (inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale 4, hold 4, repeat)

3) 4-7-8 breathing (inhale for a count of 4, hold 7, exhale 8 making a whooshing sound).

Diaphragmatic breathing has multiple purposes, including: Improving the ability to use the primary breathing muscle (the diaphragm), it calms the nervous system, stimulating the lymphatic system via the thoracic duct, it improves the ability to use the diaphragm for core activation, and it reduces back pain.

Note: The information in this post is intended to support your physical healing and is not intended as mental health therapy or a replacement for professional mental health support. Your Physical Therapist may recommend these techniques - or remind you to use techniques that your mental health provider has recommended - as a way of supporting your ability to participate in Physical Therapy and effectively engage with the healing process. Stress- and pain-management techniques are within the Physical Therapy scope of practice. Your Physical Therapist may also recommend these practices in addition to referring you to a mental health provider if he/she finds this valuable for your wellbeing.

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