To continue on with our monthly theme of basic principles, we will discuss the art of breathing. We love talking about the role the breath has in our entire physiological system and could talk about the topic for hours, but here is some start up information.
One of the most frequent movements we perform is breathing. Other than perhaps blinking, there is no other physical pattern we perform so regularly throughout the entire duration of our lives. We normally perform upwards of 25,000 breathes per day, so you can see the importance it plays in our day to day function. Breathing is imperative for life as we know it... without the breath we have none.
How can such a repetitive and common movement impact all facets of our living? In this article we will discuss the main roles breathing plays in our body and suggest a few simple ways to improve this pattern for optimal health.
HOW BREATHING IMPROVES YOUR HEALTH
Efficient and appropriate breathing mechanics can have a positive effect on multiple aspects of our health, including:
Improving our respiratory health by increasing oxygen saturation, improving respiratory function and increasing lung capacity.
Improving our energy and thus reducing fatigue and tiredness.
Changing the state of our nervous system.
Aiding with digestion, sleep, exercise and daily activities.
Improving mood and reducing stress.
Reducing risk factors for chronic conditions such as cardiac disease.
Optimising athletic performance.
Potentially assisting with pain management.
Have you ever wondered why Johnathan Thurston takes huge slow breathes when lining up a conversion? Or why our trainers continually remind us to breathe throughout exercise? What about the use of a slow breathe in stressful situations, such as exams or public speaking? Positive examples of breathing for performance are all around and have been utilised for many years in differing areas. By simply focusing on our mechanics we can change our ‘state’, reduce stress, improve decision-making and make massive postural changes - especially to our upper spine. Below are some simple low level breathing exercises you can perform at home to start you on your breathing journey!!
The first step in improving your breathing is to first get a better understanding of your current breathing pattern. We suggest you do the following:
Get in to a comfortable position - either laying on your back with legs bent or reclined in a chair.
Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly and breathe for a few minutes. Focus on the movements throughout your chest and belly.
Slow the pace a little and just notice the pattern.
Are you breathing deeply into the chest, or is your breath shallow? All of us are born with the instinctive knowledge of how to fully engage the diaphragm to take deep, refreshing breaths. However, as we get older we get out of the habit. Everything from the stresses of everyday life to the practice of "sucking in" the stomach for a trimmer waistline encourages us to gradually shift to shallower, less satisfying "chest breathing".
For your next few breaths try the following and see if you can notice a difference:
Breathe in through your nose drawing the breath in deeply as you notice your belly rise.
Exhale slowly through your mouth or nose.
The focus here is to simply remind yourself to breathe in through your nose and deep into your belly. You should feel your belly rise and fall.
Notice the difference between this deep belly breathing and the shallow chest breathing so many of us have become accustomed to. The above technique can be used at any time throughout the day to reduce stress and help us to slow down.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a breathing exercise that helps strengthen your diaphragm, the main muscle we use for breathing. The diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle at the base of the lungs, plays an important role in breathing. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts (tightens) and moves downward toward the belly. This creates more space in your chest cavity, allowing the lungs to expand. When you exhale, the opposite happens — your diaphragm relaxes and moves upward in the chest cavity.
Also know as 'abdominal breathing' or 'belly breathing' it is performed by doing the following:
Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed, with your knees bent and your head supported. You can use a pillow under your knees to support your legs.
Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
Inhale as deeply as possible.
Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.
Relearning how to breathe from the diaphragm is beneficial for everyone. Diaphragmatic breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, this type of breathing slows the heartbeat and can lower or stabilise blood pressure. It is especially helpful to people suffering respiratory conditions such as COPD.
As you can see, these basic principles help us to understand the mechanics of breathing. Trying to incorporate your entire respiratory system, including diaphragm, into your regular breathing pattern has many health benefits. There are many ways to incorporate proper breathing into our daily activities. If you would like to discuss the art of breathing with one of our allied health professional please feel free to contact our team on 07 5456 1999.