We all consider our movement when we are training, in performing a movement in the gym or outside where we move with purpose and in a manner in which we are trying to execute a movement well and with accuracy. But what about breathing? I’m prepared to be bet that very few of you have ever really thought about it. Why would you? It something that happens automatically, right? Would you ever wonder if your heart was beating correctly? Or if the smooth muscles of your gastrointestinal tract are performing peristalsis in an efficient manner? Of course not!
But breathing isn’t as automatic as you think. Good breathing is an important component of good health and can tell us a lot about our current physiological state – more than you might believe with regards to stress and anxiety. The unfortunate part of this is that by the time we are 4 or 5 years old we are already starting to breath in ways that are not helpful and symptomatic of BPD, so that by the time we are into adulthood our incorrect breathing patterns are deeply ingrained.
Correct breathing mechanics are critical for the stabilisation and mobility of the spinal column and when breathing pattern disorder (BPD) is present we can see all manner of functional movement inefficiencies that range in dyskinesia from back pain to neck and jaw pain. This is because with correct breathing we should be using, almost entirely, our diaphragm. See the image below for a visual on the location of the diaphragm.
As you can see, the diaphragm sits below the lungs and attaches to the ribs, spine and lower part of the sternum, among others. It forms the floor of the rib cage and the roof of the abdomen. When we inhale the diaphragm contracts and draws the lungs down slightly, causing the air pressure within the lungs to drop below the air pressure outside, and thus air rushes in. When we exhale the diaphragm relaxes and the lungs move upwards slightly, causing the air pressure to equal the air pressure outside of the body and air moves out.
With BPD we begin to use other muscles to assist us with breathing such as the trapezius, scalenes and sternocleidomastoid, which as mentioned can and does lead to a variety of musculoskeletal disorders.
A very simple tool that I use to quickly and crudely assess a client’s breathing pattern is the movement of the shoulders at rest. If you find that you are moving your neck and shoulder when you breathe in at complete rest than there is a good chance that you are showing signs of BPD. The fix, in most cases is quite simple, however and below I have outlined 4 steps and exercises that you can do to help get your breathing back on track and that should be performed each day for 5-10 minutes – possibly before sleep as part of your sleep routine.
1. Breathe through your nose – your nose filters the air that enters your lungs and helps to clear the air of any large particles that your lungs don’t want.
2. Feel the air go down to your abdomen – this might be a little strange, but to ensure that you are breathing with your diaphragm you need to feel the air all the way down to the bottom of your rib cage.
3. Breathe relaxed – be mindful of your breathing in the same way that you are mindful of your technique when performing an exercise at the gym.
4. Inhale and exhale at roughly the same pace – each phase should last for 3-4 seconds with a short pause in between breaths.
Correct breathing won’t be a cure all for your aches, pains and bothers, but it will help. Breathing right will help you to manage stress, anxiety and to move better, if not in the gym than in life. And the best part is that your breathing sessions can be done anywhere, anytime and without intrusion.
Yours in health!