Do you breathe? Of course.
But do you breathe well? . . . Hmm . . . maybe not.
Take a moment and bring some awareness to your body and your breath. Which parts of your body move as you breath in and as you breath out? Does your upper chest move? Does your rib cage move? How much does your belly move? Are you breathing through your nose or your mouth? Are you holding your breath? Does your breathing feel natural? Count 5 breaths. Take a full deep breath allowing your body to move, expand and open. Breath then ask yourself the questions above again. Does anything change?
Breathing will affect our anxiety and stress and our anxiety and stress will affect breathing. With increased stress, and the emotional and physiological changes that go with stress, it isn’t surprising we are only considering breathing as an after thought. Of course we all breathe but it is becoming more evident that we do not breathe well.
Pain is an unpleasant emotional and sensory response of our bodies to any emotional or mechanical stimulus. Our ‘fight to flight’ mode is switched on when we have an imbalance in our nervous systems. This can result in the inability to switch off pain in our bodies which, in turn,leads to faulty breathing that can lead to breathing dysfunction (1). All the muscles of respiration are also muscles of stability. With dysfunctional breathing comes poor posture, lumbar instability, weaker core muscles and a poorly coordinated pelvic floor.
The diaphragm, pelvic floor and abdominal wall work in synergy with one another. When we breathe in our pelvic floor lengthens, our diaphragm lengthens and our abdominal wall expands. When we breathe out the reverse happens. If we breathe only into the upper chest; we loose the synergy of our diaphragm, our pelvic floor and our abdominal wall. They effectively do not move. We will overuse our accessory muscles; our trapezius, pectorals, scalene. Breathing Dysfunction is commonly observed in musculoskeletal complaints; predominantly back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain (1). Bracing and tensing our abdominal muscles increases intra abdominal pressure and reduces diaphragm and pelvic floor movement. Poor breathing patterns can contribute to pelvic floor dysfunction and poor digestion; which directly impacts the pelvic floor.
We need to consider the importance of belly breathing to allow the diaphragm, pelvic floor and abdominal wall to work in synergy with one another. This breath shouldn’t be a forced breath. Think nose, low and slow (Bradcliff Breathing method (2)).
Breath in and out through the nose. Breath low into the belly. Breath slowly. To start, try inhaling to the count of 3 and exhaling to the count of 4. Avoid breath holding.
We are often unaware of the tension we hold in our bodies. To align your body and give yourself an instant calming effect; find a comfortable seated position and try the Bradcliff Breathing Method, 7 Level Switch Off. Breath through your nose and into your abdomen.
- Sit with your bottom against the back of a chair. Place one hand on your tummy and one hand on your pubic bone. Roll forward off your sit bones to curve your back a little, widening this space. Roll back off your sit bones to flex your spine a little and close this space.
- Keep one hand on your belly and move the other to your chest. Open this space in order to align your ear lobes and shoulders
- Lift your shoulders to your ears then let them flop back down. Squeeze your shoulder blades then release.
- Tuck your chin, then release
- Release your jaw, part your mouth slightly, bring your tongue to the roof of your mouth
- Raise your heels then lower and relax
- Maintain this alignment and Breathe. Slowly . . Breathe In through your nose, letting you belly expand. Slowly . . Breathe out through your nose, fully, relax and loosen all over.
As a method of relaxation, try lying in beach pose; head supported by a pillow, hands clasped behind head, knees supported over a pillow (see photo) and letting your body fully unwind. Count each exhale up to 10, then back down to 1 again. Use a wheat bag on your belly as a guidance for the belly breath (2).
When we breathe well we can —
Find a sense of calm
1) Deshmukh MP, Palekar TJ, Manvikar N et al. Prevalence of Breathing Dysfunction in musculoskeletal complaints: a cross sectional study. Int J Health Sci Res. 2022; 12(2): 146-152
2) Bradcliff Breathing Method
3) Purposeful breathing; Dr Greg Smith
4) Pelvic floor essentials, 3rd ed; Croft S
5) Breathe Stretch & Move; Bradley D, Smith TC