If you haven’t heard of rumination syndrome, it’s time to pull up a chair. While rumination disorder is rare, it may be misdiagnosed as another digestive disorder like gastroesophageal reflux disease or other eating disorders. Like other digestive problems, rumination syndrome leads to problems for the stomach and esophagus if left untreated.
Suppose you suffer from rumination syndrome or often deal with undiagnosed stomach issues. In that case, we’ll help you understand the rumination disorder and some ways to find relief through breathing exercises. Let’s get right to it.
Understanding Rumination Syndrome
Rumination is the unconscious regurgitation of food right after eating a meal. Most scientists link it to the reflex of belching, but food comes back into your mouth instead of the expenditure of gas. Unlike vomiting, food is still solid when it comes to the mouth.
Likewise, rumination syndrome happens when rumination occurs after every meal, around an hour later. While rumination disorder is rare, most experts believe it to be a behavioral problem diagnosed in adults and children. Unlike acid reflux and other digestive diseases, rumination syndrome derives from the brain.
It is believed the brain and the gut interact to digest food. If an issue with the brain occurs, like stress or depression, the brain misfires and causes problems within the gut.
Physical Effects of Rumination Syndrome
The abdominal muscles clench when the stomach feels uncomfortable after eating due to stress or anxiety. As pressure increases, abdominal pain increases. To relieve pressure, the esophageal sphincter (the area where the stomach meets the esophagus) relaxes, pushing food or liquid back into the esophagus and eventually back into the mouth.
Rumination Disorder Triggers
A rumination disorder is often linked to mental health issues. Stress, anxiety, and depression are common in individuals who suffer from rumination regularly. Negative thoughts, self-doubt, and worry cause rumination sometimes.
There are times when rumination syndrome is linked to another disorder like OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
How Rumination Syndrome Breathing Exercises Help
Once you understand why undigested food is constantly regurgitating into your mouth, you can act against it with diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing. This type of breathing exercises the diaphragm and abdominal muscles, building them more substantial. Similar to how lung exercisers work to develop respiratory muscles, if you practice diaphragmatic breathing exercises, the lower muscles of the stomach strengthen.
As you improve respiratory control, you learn to control rumination and work to rid yourself of this disorder. Let’s dive more into how diaphragmatic breathing helps with rumination.
If you have tried behavioral therapy, you may know how breathing exercises reduce stress. If you can slow down your breathing, it helps reduce your heart rate. Once that happens, your body activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This part of the nervous system is responsible for relaxing the body. As you breathe in deep, steady patterns, you feel a stress reduction and begin to relax slowly.
Soothing Muscle Tension
When your muscles are tight, your whole body feels like a giant stress ball. It’s uncomfortable, unpleasant, and needs release. Muscle tension results from stress. It’s one of the ways your body reacts to psychological stress. When you consciously relax and focus on breathing exercises, like diaphragmatic breathing, your stress levels lower, and muscle tension along with it.
It might seem evident that diaphragmatic breathing increases oxygen levels throughout the body, but what does that mean? As oxygen levels in your body increase, more oxygen reaches your cells. This process helps your body remove toxins. The lower the number of toxins in your body, the lower your stress levels. It’s science, people!
Four Breathing Exercises for Rumination Syndrome
Known as belly breathing, your diaphragm is the primary muscle involved in breathing. It expands as you breathe in and out. Multiple studies have found that diaphragmatic breathing exercises restore the pressure balance within the digestive tract. Once pressure is restored, food and liquids aren’t pushed up the esophagus and into the mouth.
Many therapists in behavioral therapy promote the practice of diaphragmatic breathing to reduce stress. Studies support this method since diaphragmatic breathing helps to elevate cortisol levels to the correct amount, reducing stress levels.
Practicing diaphragmatic breathing three to four times daily for five to ten minutes is essential. If you practice diaphragmatic breathing before and after eating, it helps to reduce rumination.
- Lie down or sit with your spine straight in a comfortable position.
- Put a hand on your stomach right about your navel. Seeing the rise and all fall of your hand during this type of breathing shows you are doing it correctly.
- Take a deep breath through your nose, allowing your lungs to fill and your stomach to rise. You should notice your hand lifting as your belly expands.
- Allow your body to exhale through your mouth slowly. Watch your hand lower as your stomach deflates.
- Repeat the process for several minutes, keeping your breaths slow and steady.
- Focus on the breaths as you breathe in deeply and exhale slowly. If your mind starts to wander, bring it back to your breaths.
- Over time increase the amount of time your practice diaphragmatic breathing. Eventually, you’ll want to get to ten minutes.
Pursed Lip Breathing (PLB)
When suffering from rumination syndrome, practicing a pursed lip breathing method helps. This breathing exercise helps when breathing is shallow and quick since that type of breathing increases stress levels, pursed lip breathing enables breathing to slow and helps to stabilize breathing patterns.
The pursed lip breathing method enables you to breathe intentionally, focusing on your breaths. As you practice this method, your airways open, allowing for better carbon dioxide removal. This method prevents hyperventilation by eliciting relaxation.
- Sit with your back straight, relaxing your neck and shoulder muscles.
- Like diaphragmatic breathing, inhale slowly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed.
- Purse your lips like you are making a wish and about to blow out birthday candles.
- Slowly exhale through pursed lips. You’ll want to take exhale slower than you inhale.
- This breathing method exhausts the respiratory muscles quickly, so practice only three to five times.
Alternate Nostril Breathing (ANB)
Famous throughout yoga, alternate nostril breathing improves heart health while enhancing cognitive function. Like pursed lip and diaphragmatic breathing, alternate nostril breathing reduces stress and anxiety by increasing oxygen and promoting more patterned breathing techniques–making them excellent breathing methods for rumination disorder.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position with your right hand positioned near your face.
- Curl down your index and middle fingers while keeping the other fingers extended.
- Inhale slowly and close your right nostril with your thumb.
- Exhale slowly with the left nostril without using any force.
- Before your next breath, release your right nostril and close your left nostril using your ring finger. Slowly inhale through your right nostril and exhale.
- Repeat this pattern twice, breathing in and out through opposite nostrils.
- Reverse the order of nostrils to start with closing the left nostril first and repeat that pattern twice.
Box Breathing Technique
Mark Divine, a former Navy SEAL commander, created our final breathing technique. It involves focusing your breathing on filling a box. Depending on the size and shape of the box, you may need to shorten or lengthen your breaths to fill it.
- Inhale through your nose slowly and hold your breath for four seconds.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth for four seconds.
- Pause for four seconds before starting again.
Tips For Success
If you suffer from rumination syndrome, you may be impatient with wanting an everyday life without worrying about rumination every time you eat. While we understand it’s better to go slowly, to reduce the risk of breathing exercises not working for you. Keeps these tips below in mind as you work through these breathing techniques.
Let your breathing exercises become habits. Pick your practice times throughout the day and stick to them. The more consistent you are, the better you become and the healthier you’ll feel mentally and physically.
Quiet is Essential
It’s best to think of your breathing exercises as meditation. You wouldn’t do that in a crowded room, would you? Find a quiet, comfortable place where you can hear your breathing and let that be your sole focus.
We can’t stress this enough–you must be patient. Developing excellent breathing techniques that benefit your health and well-being takes time. Practice diaphragmatic breathing, and don’t rush through it. Some people find being quiet and still challenging. It’s not surprising considering our world, where we’re always on the go. Remember, chaos leads to higher stress levels and rumination for some. These breathing techniques take time to help you, but you’ll get there with practice and patience.
A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition demonstrated how rumination is unconscious repetitive behavior. In behavioral therapy, you learn to counteract destructive behaviors with good ones, like breathing techniques.
Consciously thinking about your breathing helps you control abdominal contractions that cause rumination. Relaxing those muscles keeps regurgitation under control.
Keeping a log of your progress helps you understand which breathing technique is best for you. It also saves you from overthinking the process. You are more objective about the process as you write about how long you performed the exercises and how you felt afterward. Tapping into your emotions and understanding how breathing techniques relax you is essential. You can pinpoint the exact moment you start seeing progress.
As you develop better breathing, cold plunge activates your parasympathetic nervous system reducing stress and anxiety. Together with breathing exercises, a cold plunge could elicit the change you need to put a stop to your rumination disorder.
Yoga, Taiichi, and other meditation help keep stress and anxiety lower. They are all excellent tools for incorporating into your daily routine to keep rumination at bay.
Finding Relief from Rumination
There is relief from rumination. Between the breathing techniques we discussed, cold plunges, and meditation, you can create a better life away from stress and anxiety that triggers rumination. Remember, it takes patience when practicing the breathing exercises, and continually track your progress. Here’s to a life away from a rumination disorder.