A patient of mine told me she was instructed on diaphragmatic breathing from another therapist. So I said, “oh good! Would you show me?” So she’s sitting on the plinth and I’m watching and listening. Not much movement anywhere. Not hearing much of anything. I look at her face and it looks like she’s suffocating! I asked ”are you breathing?!” She says “I’m trying!” At that rate, she would have passed out if I let her continue what she was doing.
Most who are instructed in diaphragmatic breathing are told to place their hand on their chest and abdomen, and just allow the belly to expand during the inhale while the chest remains still. Breathing in this fashion does utilize the diaphragm, but it is not the most natural or efficient way to breathe. If you are like my patient mentioned in the 1st paragraph, you’re likely not getting much oxygen/CO2 exchange, you’re likely straining your neck and it’s just not something you can, or want, to maintain 24/7. The goal is to breathe efficiently and with good mechanics automatically. It’s an unconscious process, controlled by higher brain centers to maintain homeostasis in your body and to make sure you stay alive!
Diaphragmatic breathing must include chest/ribcage expansion as well as belly/abdominal movement. Not just one or the other. Most people I’ve seen in the clinic tend to be chest breathers, getting most of their air (especially with deep inhalation) with their upper chest expanding, their neck muscles kicking in, shoulders shrugging and their spines going into a backward arch (extension). If that is how your breathe when I ask you to take a deep breath, you are likely doing a small amount of it during normal breathing at rest. That’s 17,280 breaths/day or 17,280 shrugs and back extensions per day.
Are you suddenly wondering if your breathing habit is a culprit in that constant stiffness or pain in your back, neck, shoulder or jaw? You bet it is!
Correcting your breathing pattern can have very dramatic effects. I’ve had asthmatic adolescents normalize their spirometry measures (at the doctor’s office, you may blow into this device to measure the volume of air you can expel), neck/jaw/headache pain resolve, back pain resolve and had an elderly woman, after so many years of not being able, to laugh without coughing.
In Chinese medicine, the breath is usually linked to the concept of vital energy called “Qi” or “Ki”. It is the basis for Qi Gong which is system of healing and energy medicine using breathing techniques, gentle movement, and meditation to cleanse, strengthen, and circulate the life energy. A familiar example of Qi Gong is Tai Chi.
Here’s a simple way to restore a natural breathing rhythm: While sitting relaxed, take an easy breath in through your nose, then exhale (like a sigh) with an open relax mouth for as long and as much as you can. When you feel like you have all the air out, you should be able to feel your abdominal muscles working as well as your trunk forwardly rounding. Now hold your breath, without straining, for about 4-5 seconds. After this pause, allow yourself to just let the air in through your nose and you’ll experience the natural chest/ribcage and belly expansion occur, usually without effort.
I say “usually” because some of us may need some hands-on, manual work done by a PRI trained therapist to assist this process of proper ribcage motion. In addition, you may need to perform some specific exercises to maintain this newfound breathing pattern so you don’t fall back into poor breathing habits.
In short, the benefits of proper breathing include, but are not limited to:
- Improved Posture
- Improved relaxation response
- Favorable changes in blood chemistry
- Beneficial for all Pain conditions, HA’s, Fibromyalgia and asthma
- Improved Core function
Give us a call to have a free screen performed on your breathing patterns/habits!
-Stay Healthy and Pain Free!