Don’t forget to breathe

Last weekend was probably the first time in 6 months that I breather properly and it felt soooo much better. In my former life as a Physical Therapist I would see people everyday that could benefit from breathing exercises. Some forms of pain can be alleviated completely, just through relaxation and proper oxygenation of the body. Correct breathing can relieve stress, focus the mind, help you fly (not really, but just checking if you are focusing), etc.

So, why don’t people breathe properly? Lots of reasons. We sit a lot, which puts us in a bad posture and stiffens up our ribcage, and makes it harder for us to breathe. We worry about stuff, so we harbor tension… and many other things. Ironically not breathing well exacerbates the situation as it increases muscle tension, reduces perfusion of the brain, induces fatigue and the slide begins.

The Spinach and Yoga blog attributes some other interesting things to breathing, that I’m not entirely convinced by, but hey, can’t hurt if they do. On the flip side, Dr Lange is a bit of a sceptic and postulates that deep breathing will in fact reduce the CO2 in our lungs and impact the breathing “drive”. Technically he is correct in the case of someone that walks around all day taking deep breaths, rather than someone that stops and takes a few deep breaths every so often, just to release the tension in the body or get that little O2 boost. He also seems to neglect the simple fact that years of poor posture and shallow breathing will a) cause our ribcage to stiffen, requiring us to work harder to attain that normal oxygenation b) in response the body may well reduce its sensitivity to CO2 and will require less O2. Does that make it OK to breathe more shallowly?

Like most things in life, the answer lies some place in the middle and depending on your lifestyle you may have to work harder or less hard at keeping optimally oxygenated and keeping your tension at bay.

According to the Harvard Health Publication (HHP), this is how to take a deep, healing, diaphragmatic breath:

“First steps. Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down. Start by observing your breath. First take a normal breath. Now try taking a slow, deep breath. The air coming in through your nose should move downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural). Alternate normal and deep breaths several times. Pay attention to how you feel when you inhale and exhale normally and when you breathe deeply. Shallow breathing often feels tense and constricted, while deep breathing produces relaxation.

Now practice diaphragmatic breathing for several minutes. Put one hand on your abdomen, just below your belly button. Feel your hand rise about an inch each time you inhale and fall about an inch each time you exhale. Your chest will rise slightly, too, in concert with your abdomen. Remember to relax your belly so that each inhalation expands it fully.”

Now, far be it for me to tell the Harvard people how to suck eggs, but the act of lying down makes it harder for us to breathe, which is why people with chronic lung problems prefer to sit up. Also, if you are slouching, you won’t get the full benefit. if you are very stiff in your spine or ribcage, you may want to get someone to teach you some stretches (particularly rotation).

Interestingly the HHP sees it as a 15-20min daily practice, I guess I see it as 4-5 deep breaths an hour. It is kind of a check in on your body to see if you are holding tension and slouching in your office chair. I know jot makes me feel much better when I do it and will try to breathe deeply more regularly. Become aware of your body and do whatever works for you.

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