Why Breathing Is Everything

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Recently over the Christmas holidays I read a book called “Breath’ by James Nestor. It created quite an impact when it was first released a couple of years ago. It’s no surprise breathing is foundational and fundamental to all aspects of our health and well-being. Since we breathe between 20-22 thousand times a day, how we breathe can have significant and life changing consequences for our health. 

Breathing and the Mind

We all know intuitively how our breathing mirrors our state of mind; when we are stressed or anxious our breathe is shallow, high in the chest and rapid. When we feel relaxed, the breathe is deep in the belly, slow and soothing. When you observe closely, you’ll notice that when your mind is occupied in thought, or you are engrossed in something, like reading your emails, we tend to restrict the breath and almost ‘forget’ to breathe. Conversely, when we are embodied and attentive, we notice the deep melodic rhythm of the breath coinciding with a restful peaceful awareness. Essentially, the more we are ‘in our head’ and caught up in overthinking, the more the breath becomes restricted and shallow. 

Breathing and the Body

I often find abnormal breathing patterns in practice members with chronic lower back pain. This results in a tight diaphragm, causing the lower ribcage to tighten as well as the flank muscles. It is often difficult to take a deep breath because the ribcage expansion is reduced. 

When we can’t fully use our diaphragm, we use our upper chest more to breathe. This very often results in tight muscles in the neck, especially on the front of the neck, because we overuse these muscles to lift the chest during breathing. This manifests very commonly as tightness in the neck and shoulders

Poor breathing can often manifest as repetitive yawning, sighing and coughing. 

Breathing and Posture

Good diaphragmatic breathing helps the posture immensely. The diaphragm is an important stabiliser for the back and helps the core keep the spine stable and strong. The diaphragm also works in harmony with the pelvic floor to create engagement in the abdominal core. When the diaphragm is tight and under utilised, the spine is more reliant on the smaller muscles in the back. These smaller muscles cannot stabilise the spine as well as the diaphragm, resulting in stiffness and pain in the spine. Releasing tension in the diaphragm can help give more strength and stability to the spine. You can read about our approach to posture here

Breathing and being Embodied 

Being aware of the breath can be a really powerful anchor to steady the thinking mind. By being mindful of the belly rising up and down, or the sensation of the breath coming in and out of the nose, can relax the nervous system in minutes. Generally you’ll experience a deep relaxation in the mind and body; the tight postural muscles in the back and neck often relax and lengthen and there’s usually a noticeable softening in the muscles. 

How you can improve your breathing 

If you are not under chiropractic care already, start today! Chiropractic can help normalise the natural breathing pattern by releasing the tension and restriction in the spine and diaphragm. This is normally sufficient to release the diaphragm and reestablish the normal breathing patterns. Occasionally it is necessary to consciously change our habitual breathing. In this case, we can advise you on how to do work on your breathing and engage the diaphragm effectively. 

References: Woman Magazine: How simple breathing techniques could change your health and life [online] Image; available at https://womanmagazine.co.nz/wellbeing/simple-breathing-techniques-change-health-life [accessed 18 January 2022].