My thoughts on breathing...
A bit more information as it occurs to me about how breathing impacts your health and well-being. If you have questions or want me to address a particular topic, please don't hesitate to contact me!
Just this past weekend, I had a few keen individuals attend a Breathing Matters workshop, where they learned about how to breathe better at rest and during activity. It seems that breathing has become the topic of interest these days (which is great) and there is a lot of advice out there about how to breathe better (which isn't always so great). My background as a physiotherapist means that I have to be up to date with the most recent research and evidence to support the techniques and education I give individuals about breathing.
And so, just a few days after the workshop, I came across this article at Women's Running discussing tips for breathing better during running. While it's great that people are realizing the importance of breathing well during activity, I've got a few tweaks to the tips.
1. Rib Mobility
During normal quiet breathing, the diaphragm does 95% of the work on inhalation. Exhalation is passive due to the elastic recoil of the lungs and intercostal (rib) muscles. This means that at rest, we should really only see the lower parts of the ribs expand depicted in the second image below:
If, when you breathe, you notice your chest lifting - or worse yet, your shoulders lifting, then you are likely using more of your accessory (neck) muscle to breathe. Which then bring about a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg conodrum - are you breathing using your neck muscles because your lower ribs are tight, or are your lower ribs tight and therefore you are breathing upwards? Regardless, if you want to be a better diaphragm breather, you need to make sure you have good lower rib mobility. Here are two exercises to help encourage better rib mobility during breathing:
2. Diaphragm Breathing
Now that you have loosened up those ribs, it's time to start breathing into them, using the star of the show, the diaphragm. There are a couple of ways that you can learn how to breathe using your diaphragm:
3. Establish Breathing Rhythms
There is a lot of advice regarding synchronizing breathing to steps during activity. Most of it involves inhaling for two steps and exhaling for two steps. My experience, and that of my colleagues, has been that this type of breathing leads to "breath stacking." Breath stacking occurs when an exhale is incomplete before the next inhale starts. This leads to air gets trapping in the lungs. Try this for yourself: breathe in a normal breath, but then exhale only 75%, then breathe in a normal breath and breathe out only 75%. The next breath is going to feel very restricted, shallow or even panicked. Is this something you notice during activity? If so, you may be breath stacking too. To help eliminate this problem, try "asynchronous" breathing:
Work on these three tips for a few weeks and see what happens to your breathing. Remember that changing a breathing pattern can sometimes take months - the body likes to keep doing what it's been doing, whether it's a good thing or not! Breathing well is also not an easy task if you have had dysfunctional breathing patterns, so if you are having difficulty establishing relaxed breathing, let alone comfortable breathing patterns during activity, be sure to see a health professional with experience in treating breathing pattern disorders.
I'm a physiotherapist who is passionate about educating anyone and everyone about the impact breathing has on our health.