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!
On my last blog, we looked at the research that linked breathing patterns and asthma, and how addressing faulty patterns can be beneficial. For part 2, I'm offering up some tips based on the work I do with people with asthma. I generally follow the guidelines of the BradCliff Method of breathing retraining, an evidence-based program to restore normal breathing patterns and decrease symptoms related to dysfunctional breathing.
1. Use your nose:
The nose is essential for good respiratory health. It cleans, warms and- most importantly for Calgary-humidifies the air we breathe. The airways of the lungs do not particularly like cold, dry, dirty air and so breathing through your mouth can lead to increased irritation of the airways. The nose also helps facilitate diaphragm breathing, as the resistance created by the smaller passages (as opposed to the mouth) help to recruit the diaphragm in breathing. Try this yourself: put one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Take a few breaths through your nose; then open your mouth and breathe through your mouth. You probably noticed that when you opened your mouth, your hand on your chest moved much more than when you breathed through your nose. If you have been predominantly a mouth breather, then breathing through your nose will at first feel like you are not getting enough air. But the more you practice, the easier it gets, and the more clear your nose will feel. If you have significant nasal congestion, it is worth having it investigated to make sure there are no underlying issues (allergies, polyps) that are impeding nose breathing. For those with recurrent nasal congestion, daily sinus rinses can help.
2. Use your diaphragm:
I recently completed a study looking at breathing patterns in kids with asthma and found that 83% of participants used their neck and chest muscles to breathe. Previous research has found that this type of breathing is more likely to contribute to shortness of breath. Normally the chest and neck muscles are meant to assist in breathing, such as during exercise. At rest, the diaphragm is the main breathing muscle. However, mouth breathing, or prior difficulty breathing (such as happens in asthma), can alter breathing patterns so that chest/neck muscle breathing becomes the new normal. Restoring diaphragm breathing and decreasing the amount of chest/neck muscle use may help alleviate symptoms of shortness of breath. For tips on how to restore diaphragm breathing, check out breathe-to-movetips-for-breathing-better-during-activity.html I have also had a lot of success using an inspiratory muscle trainer such as the POWERbreathe Plus to restore and strengthen diaphragm breathing. This can be helpful for a wide range of conditions like asthma, vocal cord dysfunction, and even improving sport performance.
3. When in doubt breathe out:
Asthma is classified as an obstructive disease. This means that it is more difficult to get the air out and air can get trapped in the lungs. When this happens it makes it harder to breathe in – think of a balloon that is almost filled up and how hard it is to get the last bit in. Your lungs work the same way; when they get filled up, the muscles have to work very hard to get air in. When breathing is hard, it can leave you feeling panicked. If you find this happening, try to breathe out through pursed lips (like a silent whistle) to help you empty the air out. You will find that it is easier for the next breath to come in. It helps to practice blowing out when you don’t feel distressed by blowing a toy windmill, or holding a tissue in front of your face and gently blowing it for as long as you can. Learning to breathe out in a controlled fashion and to the end of exhale helps to train your body into recognizing not only what a complete exhale feels like, but that it is okay to do that. This becomes especially important for activity, where breath stacking (breathing in before completely breathing out) can lead to premature shortness of breath and stoppage of activity.
Asthma medications have come a long way, and are absolutely vital in good asthma management. But we must not forget to "think outside the lung" and include things like good breathing awareness and optimal breathing patterns to ensure that those with asthma can continue to function at their desired level. If you have concerns about your own breathing, be sure to seek out a health professional trained in recognizing dysfunctional breathing. You can find a BradCliff Method trained therapist by clicking on this link, and selecting find a clinic.
I'm a physiotherapist who is passionate about educating anyone and everyone about the impact breathing has on our health.