A Breath of Fresh Air – Breathing 101
Stop reading and take in a breath of air.
Go ahead. I give you permission.
Get a nice big breath of air and see how that feels.
We seem to take breathing for granted. We don’t really think about it, we just sort of “do it”.
Certainly evaluating proper breathing patterns is nothing new; however, it has recently gained popularity in the strength and conditioning world. I don’t think most strength coaches, trainers, therapists, etc, really thought about the importance of this task with regard to their client/athletes performance, pain or function. I can tell you that as a strength coach/trainer I didn’t think about it that seriously until I started studying massage, where people are more inclined to talk about the importance of proper breathing.
While many are now looking at breathing and its potential effects on shoulder position/function and neck pain/tension, the impact that faulty breathing may have on the entire system does not stop there.
Over the next few blog articles, I am going to discuss breathing and hopefully give you all something to think about with regard to this critical life task.
Breathing Gone Bad
When I told you to breathe a minute ago, how was it?
Did you take in a deep breath through your nose, fill up your belly, hold it for a second and slowly breathe out?
Or, did you take a shallow breath, or maybe what you thought was a big breath because you raised your chest up high and didn’t properly allow the diaphragm to move downward. Did you breathe through your mouth? Were you rushed in your breathing – after all, who has time to take a big breath?
Chances are, more people were in the later group than the former. Unless of course, you have been trained to breath properly.
Trained to breath properly?
I know it sounds weird because we have been doing it since birth, but there is a good chance that your breathing has changed since then. If you observe a baby breathing, you will see that no one had to tell them to be “belly breathers”. They just sort did it. They lie there and comfortably breathe through their nose and let their belly rise and fall in a nice relaxed state.
However, as we go through life, stress begins to pile up and we go through states of anxiety and depression as our challenging lives unravel before us. In addition, we put mileage on our bodies with all the injuries, aches and pains that we accumulate through the years (some traumatic and some just built up over the years from overuse and/or disuse).
Breathing, and the way we breathe, plays a critical role in our physical state. When breathing is rapid and rushed (IE, hyperventilation) we are more sympathetic than when we are relaxed and breathing slowly (parasympathetic). Below are just a few things (and there are many more) that can happen to our bodies on a global scale when breathing patterns are faulty:
- Reduced availability to oxygen
- Excessive amounts of exhaled Carbon Dioxide lead to respiratory alkalosis, producing a sense of anxiety
- Possible dizziness
- Sympathetic dominance potentially leading to dilated pupils, dry mouth (which can be further enhanced by being a mouth breather), and sweaty palms
- Overall tension through the body
- Inability to relax and be comfortable
- Potentially a heightened pain perception
- General fatigue
Now, lets look at some of the things that can potentially happen to our muscles when breathing patterns are poor (after all, that is what most people reading this blog are probably interested in):
- The upper ribs elevate to a greater degree, creating sensitivity in the costal cartilage and innercostal muscles
- Thoracic spine movement is disturbed due to improper rib mechanics during breathing
- Accessory breathing muscles become overactive/hypertonic and are more prone to trigger points and ischemia – scalenes, upper trapezius, SCM, serratus posterior superior, subclavius
- The cervical spine is more prone to developing rigidity as muscles develop stiffness to compensate for the new upper chest breathing pattern
- Altered shoulder function and scapular position/mechanics
- Psoas and QL share a fascial connection to the diaphragm at the lumbar vertebrae, making them vulnerable to disuse, weakness, and myofascial trigger points when diaphragmatic breathing is not observed
- Pelvic floor muscles can be prone to potential weakness and an imbalance in tone between the abdominal muscles and over-active erector spinae muscles may be noted
With the above issues in mind, over the next few blog articles, I hope to attack the topic of breathing and give you some practical information that you can apply to your clients (or yourself) as a way to evaluate and re-teach breathing patterns.