Breathing is the most unconscious action that we do, yet it is a vital connection between our mind and body. We literally take it for granted even though breathing affects posture, alignment, nervous system, mood and energy.
Dr. Karel Lewit states: “Respiration is our primary and most important movement pattern… and also the most dysfunctional.”
Breathing and the Biomechanics of our Body
Breathing works intimately with other core structures in our body. With correct breathing patterns the diaphragm and auxiliary muscles are able to remain relaxed, subtle and support optimum biomechanics of the body. Your breathing muscles consist of the diaphragm and muscles in the abdomen, chest, neck and shoulders. Incorrect breathing patterns are very stressful for the body and lead to a shortage of oxygen and energy. We need to learn to breathe in a more functional and authentic way.
During inhalation the ribcage has the ability to expand to the front (anteriorly), the back (posteriorly) and the side (laterally). Inhalation causes the diaphragm to contract, flattening the muscle allowing more air to enter the lungs helping your lungs with the gas exchange and giving your organs a rhythmical balance. With an exhalation the diaphragm relaxes and the air in the lungs decreases.
A weak diaphragm affects the thoracic spine and ribcage function and causes increased tension in upper rib cage muscles. This lends to muscles, not typically thought of as accessory muscles for breathing, to do unnecessary work.
Symptoms of a weakened core and loss of proper diaphragmatic breathing can include, chronic lower back pain, frequent tension-type headaches, shoulder tightness, emotional overload, stress and anxiety, to name a few. Therefore, it is essential that core muscles must be correctly engaged and we must breathe properly to improve all respiratory-related structure to improve both physical and mental health.
‘It’s virtually impossible to overstate the influence of breathing on t-spine (thoracic spine) and rib mobility and postural stability. The diaphragm, abdominals, and accessory respiratory muscles produce upward of 21,000 breaths a day’. (Breathing and Back Pain by Erik Dalton Ph.D)
Wow, and you thought breathing was natural.
Breathing and Our Mind
The importance of breathing has been taught through many modalities over the centuries, especially in yoga (Pranayama). We need to breathe in a way that is physiologically optimal for our body. We need to ‘Return to our Breathe’ for relaxation and calm. When our breath is slow, deep and measured, it signals our body to release hormones that are associated with feelings of calm and centered well-being.
Your nose actually directs 30 different functions in your body. Nerves in your nasal passages are connected to your hypothalamus that senses everything about your breathing and uses that information to regulate your bodily functions. Your nose releases Nitric Oxide (NO) during breathing, which is carried from your nose into your lungs. It is a gas that plays a significant role in homeostasis (maintaining balance) within your body
Breathing patterns such as mouth breathing and shallow breathing are very stressful for the body and lead to a shortage of oxygen and energy. When our breath is shallow and rapid, it can trigger the release of stress hormones. A significant problem with mouth breathing is reduced oxygen absorption leading to poor sleep, stamina and energy levels. Oxygen is essential for our cells to help reduce stress, high blood pressure, etc.
There is a huge amount of research available about the positive effects of mindfulness. At the core of mindfulness practice is mindful awareness, beginning with breathing. By taking control of our breathing and making it more relaxed, our body and mind become relaxed leading to optimal health and better functioning in general.
So don’t…. ‘Just Breathe’…. Consciously Breathe
How to Breathe for Optimum Results
So we shouldn’t take breathing for granted. Breathing exercises are an important part of many exercise programs and we should include it in our daily program. Be aware you are still breathing properly at different times during your day.
When you breathe, you breathe through your nose as the air is used more effectively. Breathing through your mouth allows unfiltered air to enter the body that is full of viruses and bacteria.
Check your breathing is deep, relaxed and rhythmical through your nose. The air you breathe in through your nose should go all the way down to your belly, pushing out your tummy and then as you exhale forcefully pull the belly in. A closed mouth, with the tongue placed up the palate ensures that the breathing happens in and out the nose.
For optimal breathing, the inhale should be 2-3 seconds, exhale 3-4 seconds followed by a pause for 2-3 seconds. The extended exhale increases relaxation and also has a positive effect on the inhale which gets deeper and more rhythmical.
Breathing and Body Work
‘When tension, trauma and poor posture alter biomechanics and undermine smooth integrated core movement, it alters the body’s loading and muscle activation patterns.’ (Breathing and Back Pain by Erik Dalton Ph.D).
Massaging and treating muscle dysfunctions, especially non-auxiliary muscles used in breathing, and improving ribcage mobility, can assist in optimizing the biomechanics for many muscular dysfunctions including dowager’s hump, shoulder and neck pain and Upper Crossed Syndrome.
Breathe, conscious breathe, for optimal health