The Way You Breathe Matters (with instructions for improvement)
Are you breathing correctly? Is there a right way to breathe? Chances are no, you are not breathing correctly. And yes, there is a correct way to breathe. Most of us stop breathing correctly when we become unconsciously aware of how we look to others, around the age of 6. I also suspect this is because kids are in school, sitting for more of their days and sleep may be disrupted due to changes in schedules which can also affect breathing patterns. If we breathe correctly, our abdomen should clearly move in and out. But, many of us try to hold our core in and end up breathing with our upper, accessory breathing muscles rather than diaphragm and core. Many of us also spend too much of our day seated and slumped forward which will compress our lungs and prevent us from being able to take full, deep breaths.
The way we breathe affects how our musculoskeletal system moves. One of the main muscles involved in breathing is our diaphragm. The diaphragm has many very important jobs, but I'm going to stick with its role in breathing and posture for now. It is the ceiling of the core muscles and is attached to the spine and ribs. When we take a deep breath in (inhale), our lungs fill up with air, the diaphragm moves down, the belly and back move outward and our pelvic floor moves down. When we breathe out (exhale), our diaphragm moves up, our belly and back come closer together and our pelvic floor moves up. Proper, abdominal breathing, keeps our spine moving well. When we breathe with our chest and accessory muscles, we may experience more tightness in our shoulders and neck because we're over using those muscles for a job our diaphragm and core should be doing instead. I also find many of my patients with low back pain have poor breathing patterns. Diaphragmatic breathing is the first step I use in rehabbing low back pain and post partum. Breathing through our nose is also important as our skeletal system is developing because it helps properly shape our palate, jaw and cranial bones. Are your kids breathing through their nose or mouth?
Proper, diaphragmatic breathing helps to massage our gastrointestinal organs which may aide in digestion. A well functioning diaphragm also plays a very important job in preventing reflux. If you are not breathing with your diaphragm, your digestion may not be working as well as it could be.
Breathing plays a huge role in nervous system function. When we breathe through our nose, it actives our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). We should be breathing through our nose when we're sleeping, casually going about our day and at rest. Breathing through our mouth activates the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight or flee) and should only been used when we are working out or under stress. When we understand how breathing affects our nervous system, it's much easier to see how it can directly influence our current state of stress. Actively focusing on breathing in and out through your nose, in addition to using your diaphragm rather than your accessory breathing muscles is an excellent physical tool to better manage chronic mental and emotional stress.
Another bonus to nose breathing is that we get better air filtration!
I highly recommend adding diaphragmatic breathing to your life. Whether you use it as a meditation technique, warm up for your workout or to fall asleep, chances are you can benefit from some intentional, diaphragmatic breathing. Start with 10 breaths, counting 4 seconds in and 6 seconds out, in and out through your nose using only your diaphragm and avoiding chest movement. Check out the video below for more instruction.