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How to Breathe…Better?!!

by Carmen Andrews - Physiotherapist

We promised this post a few months ago. Our apologies…we got sidetracked creating a great series on “Back Pain” and “Movement for Health” that you can see on our Facebook page @CarmenAndrewsPhysio You can read more on how the position of the rib-cage can affect your breathing and cause tension in your shoulders on a previous post here on our blog.

I know that when you read the title of this blog you thought “Is there NOTHING we do ‘correctly’ anymore?!!” And you might be perfectly justified in a response of “Hmmph! I don’t have rigor mortis, my breathing is fine.” …Or would you?

Breathing, like everything else in life, can be ‘done’ or it can be ‘done well’. And ‘doing breathing well’ is a simple, effective way to invest in your long-term health…and it lets you ‘do life’ the best way you know how!

But what do I mean that you can breathe well or even (gasp!) breathe better? Let’s start with the ‘don’ts’:

Breathing through your mouth…when your heart rate is not climbing the wall…is less than optimal.
That stands true for kids, adults, and the elderly. You lose out on the humidifying and filtering of the air that happens as you breathe in through your nose. And nine times out of 10, mouth breathing is combined with a forward neck posture (where your head pokes slightly forward on your neck) which puts your jaw in an awkward position. Not great for headaches or TMJ (jaw) dysfunction.

Neither is breathing shallowly into the apices (the very top part) of your lungs particularly good for you.
If you’re not breathing deep into the base of your lungs by using your diaphragm …you’re not getting as much oxygen as possible into your blood …and you’re missing out on the movement you could be getting throughout your entire spine with each breath.
If your back is stiff as you age, or from sitting in a fixed position all day, it’s more difficult to get good lung volume as you have to breathe against the stiffness of your rib-cage. Want an extra burst of energy? Get your spine moving and start breathing to the base of your lungs.

So, does good breathing provide benefit in other ways?

Breathing helps to calm down your ‘fight or flight’ (stress) response and aids relaxation.
“Take a deep breath” to relax is founded in good science. To put it simply, breathing deeply in and out down-regulates your stress nervous system (also called your ‘fight or flight’ reaction) and up-regulates your relaxation nervous system (also called your ‘rest and digest’ system).

Try this breathing technique and pay attention to how your body responds to it:

  1. Find somewhere comfortable to sit. Place your hands on your lower rib-cage so you can feel the movement as you breathe in and out.

  2. Sit up tall, lifting your breastbone a little toward the ceiling.

  3. Relax your neck and shoulders

  4. Consciously try to breathe with your abdomen, allowing your belly to expand as you breathe in and gently relax as you breathe out.

  5. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Then breathe out through your nose for a count of six. Repeat this process six times.

Take home message:
If you’re feeling short of breath at rest or while training, focus on a good exhalation. It will result in a good inhalation.

Form a good habit for life. Spare a thought for the flexibility of your spine EVERY DAY…
Stretch your arms and chest up to the ceiling.
Take some deep breaths (as if you are breathing ‘into your belly’)
…and keep doing that ‘til your last breath is out.

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