So many times I hear patients tell me “I never knew breathing was so hard” and “I never knew the way I breathe mattered so much.” After all, it’s something we do without even thinking about it, right? So, why does it matter so much?
Well, correct posture and breathing is important for many reasons. The following are a few that we will cover a bit more in depth:
- Improves our health and promotes harmony in the core and pelvic floor.
- Promotes healing and tissue repair through increased oxygen intake.
- Decreases stress by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Regulates intra-abdominal pressure, in turn decreasing neck and low back pain, along with reducing stress to the spine, the linea alba, pelvic floor, and the GI system.
Breathing helps regulate our core pressure. Core pressure is defined as the amount of intra-abdominal pressure needed to keep the spine safe and healthy. This is variable from person to person. Ideally, to achieve adequate core pressure, we need to have our ribs stacked over our hips, and get 360 degree expansion from our ribcage.
What does 360 degree expansion mean? It means that as we inhale and our diaphragm drops down, our ribs will expand to the front, out to both sides, as well as to the back. Then, as we exhale, everything will return to its original “resting” position. All this happens in order to promote proper intra-abdominal pressure, reduce neck and back pain, help create a stable SI joint (sacroiliac joint), and a happy core and pelvic floor.
When we slip into breathing patterns that over-use our secondary and accessory muscles of respiration (ie. neck, upper chest, and abdominals), and under utilize our primary muscles of respiration (ie. intercostals and diaphragm), we create unnecessary stress on our spine, which can create dysfunction globally.
How does this happen, you might ask? Well, I’m glad you asked! These breathing patterns tend to apply either too much abdominal pressure (from over tightening/bracing, drawing in), preventing proper diaphragm function, or too little abdominal pressure (from weak/inactive abdominals, rib flare, or overactive paraspinals), and will again prevent proper diaphragm function. Remember, the diaphragm is the primary muscle for respiration and controlling the intra-abdominal/core pressure. If it is unable to properly function, our bodies will find the “weakest link” and redirect that pressure outward, causing symptoms that may manifest as headaches, shoulder pain, pelvic pain, low back, neck pain, SI joint pain, diastasis recti, bowel and/or bladder dysfunction.
Focusing on getting that good 360 degree breath not only regulates core pressure, but also helps to decrease stress. This also stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system – our “rest and digest” center – giving us a sense of calm, while stimulating digestion and in turn improving bowel health. Additionally, it increases oxygen intake and helps to improve healing and tissue repair through better blood flow/circulation.
To begin, I typically suggest people start in a quiet, maybe even dark room. Get yourself comfortable lying on your back with your knees bent and using pillows to support your head. Some people even like to put their legs up the wall or on a bench for support and to decrease stress to the lumbar spine. For 1-3 minutes, simply clear and calm your mind, and just breathe. For the next few minutes (5-10) you can place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly, or wrap your hands around your ribs (for ladies, I cue hand placement about bra line area). Take several deep, relaxing breaths and focus on what you feel. During this time, I want you to focus on your breath and feel the following….
– Inhale, fill your chest and belly with air
– Feel your chest and belly expand
– Feel your rib cage expand outward on each side
– Feel your back expand into the floor or into your thumbs
– As you exhale, the chest, belly, back, and ribs all come back to neutral
– This is a 360 degree breath
The key here is to not force anything (or get stressed about what is or isn’t happening) – just assess. Remember, this is supposed to be calming!
If you experience any of the symptoms noted in this blog, please reach out for a formal evaluation of your symptoms.