Just BreatheMarch 17th, 2020
5:45 AM… You hear the alarm clock to begin your day. You are scrambling all morning to prepare yourself for the day ahead and getting the kids ready for school. Throughout the day, you have good or bad circumstances that could potentially cause an increase in stress or maybe even pain. However, the important factor is your body is constantly working and adjusting to keep you going through the day especially your respiratory system. However, did you ever stop to take a deep breath? Like a big meditation-type breathing, with a big inhale and an audible exhale. Breathing is not just essential for living, but it is important for us in all aspects of life including our emotional and physical function.
Breathing has many benefits to all systems of the body. It helps with sleep function and quality as well as proper digestion and circulation of oxygen through the blood. It can also be beneficial with reducing strain or tension as well as stress. Breathing is also beneficial for pain control. The body’s natural instinct is to cause tension and guarding to protect itself from the pain, however, this reaction can cause muscles to tighten which results in more shallow breathing. This response upregulates the body’s nervous system and can even produce more pain in other regions of the body. A way to down regulate the body’s nervous system involves breathing exercises to reduce the tension and improve pain control.
ANATOMY OF BREATHING
The diaphragm is a skeletal muscle that sits just below the rib cage and works synonymously with the pelvic floor. As a person inhales, both the diaphragm and the pelvic floor will drop down. With exhaling, the diaphragm and the pelvic floor will rise back up. With these two anatomical structures working together, they improve the overall pressure system in the abdomen. Why are we discussing pelvic floor? These muscles are important for the function of bowel and bladder habits as well as support of major organs and sexual function. If the pressure system in the trunk is imbalanced then it can cause pain or other dysfunction to other systems of the body.
It is typically common that body mechanics are important while sitting and working or squatting to pick up heavy objects to avoid pain or injury. But how about proper breathing mechanics? Breathing mechanics includes a 360 degree movement. Movement can occur in the abdomen, rib cage and even the spinal region. If one area of the body moves more than other regions or is restricted, then can cause an imbalance in pressure therefore dysfunction. A way to assess breathing mechanics is by placing a hand on the abdomen and the other hand on the chest to determine where the most movement occurs and the goal is to have equal movement while inhaling. Next, place both hands on either side of the rib cage and see if any movement occurs up and outwards. Lastly, laying on either side and placing a hand on the back with inhalation can assess movement in the spinal region.
Breathing can become a part of the daily routine and exercise program. Performing breathing exercises in various positions will improve mobility in various parts of the body depending on the position. First, lay on your back with feet propped focusing on abdominal and rib cage movement placing hands on the regions for cuing. Or, you can lay on your side with a focus on movement through your spine and rib cage while breathing. Options like standing or sitting are great ways to breathe during functional types of activities that you can do throughout the day. A controlled breathing exercise called “4-7-8” is a way to control your breath and increase the depth of movement. First, you take a deep inhale for 4 seconds then hold your breath for 7 seconds followed with a slow exhale taking 8 seconds.
Breathing is an essential part of surviving. However, there is more to breathing than just letting air pass through the lungs during daily activities. Breathing improves function of all systems of the body and the proper mechanics of breathing can also affect positively or negatively to particular aspects of life and function. It is beneficial for down regulating the nervous system and improving pain.
About the Author: Chelsea graduated from Loma Linda University with her Doctorate in Physical Therapy. She initially had a focus on working with orthopedics at Panorama Orthopedics and Spine with a focus on hip rehabilitation especially with hip labral tears. She then realized she had a passion for pelvic rehabilitation. She has taken classes with Herman and Wallace and is certified in functional dry needling Level 1. She actively listen to patients and find their ultimate goal in recovery with evidence based practice whether it is improving daily function or returning to recreational activities. She is an avid runner and snow skier/boarder and loves hanging out with her puppy and husband during off times.
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Publishing, H., 2020. Relaxation Techniques: Breath Control Helps Quell Errant Stress Response – Harvard Health. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response> [Accessed 11 March 2020].
Medicalnewstoday.com. 2020. 4-7-8 Breathing: How It Works, Benefits, And Uses. [online] Available at: <https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324417> [Accessed 11 March 2020].