This is Yohei Takada from FuncPhysio Physical Therapy. I will talk about my expertise, breathing. It is something we do more than anything else in our lives. Every day, we breathe more than 20,000 times! Therefore, if your breathing is somehow ineffective, your neck, shoulders, lower back, and other muscular systems are constantly affected. Moreover, breathing has an influence on your personality and stress level as well.
Since we breathe unconsciously most of the time, it is interesting to take time to think about the right, effective breathing.
There are mainly three types of breathing: shoulder breathing, chest breathing, and diaphragm breathing. Shoulder breathing lifts the shoulders to expand the lungs, while you are supposed is to lower the diaphragm instead. It is problematic to breathe with shoulders except right after an intense workout. Huge pressure is applied to your neck, shoulders, and lower back every time you breathe, and it is repeated 20,000 times a day.
If you are always short of breath or tired, you might be suffering from shoulder breathing. You should consult with a medical expert right away.
Chest breathing has been used for Pilates and vocal music for a long time. Although the technique itself is not wrong, many people only focus on expanding the chest and neglect following the natural breathing form.
The same can be said for diaphragm breathing. Although it is considered a healthy breathing technique, many people have a mistaken idea of how to perform it. Even some instructors have limited knowledge, teaching an ineffective diaphragm breathing. For example, some think the key to diaphragm breathing is to “expand your belly when inhaling,” or “breath with your stomach.” However, following such instructions will not expand your ribcage and will not allow much air in the lungs. As a matter of fact, I had a similar misconception about this technique for a long time. Maybe the name diaphragm breathing causes the confusion.
Then what is the natural, effective breathing form? I believe a chest breathing and diaphragm breathing has the same mechanism. What they are trying to achieve is the movement in which a diaphragm supports ribcage to maximize lung expansion.
Let me explain it with an example of an Olympic swimmer. When they emerge out of the water, it is not their stomach but the entire chests that are expanding. The chest does not only expand forward, but to every direction: front, back, and sideways.
What can you do to learn the right breathing? It depends on whether you have trouble inhaling or exhaling.
First, those who have trouble exhaling tend to focus too much on inhaling. The human chest has its limit on expansion since our lungs are coated with muscles. Just like an accordion, without constricting first, we cannot fill our lungs with enough air. A person with Barrel Chest or a Pigeon Chest tends to have chronic over-expansion of lungs, leading to ineffective exhaling.
A person with a history of respiratory conditions like asthma also suffers from exhalation problem, since one has a tendency to inhale too much. Without effective exhalation, the body is tense and unable to relax all the time. Heightened sympathetic nerves increase stress susceptibility, thus leading to a change in personality.
To solve this, you need to learn how to exhale completely. Most of us think we are doing it, but that is not the case at all. You need to breathe enough air out until your sternum descends, and ribcage shrinks. I recommend exercise using a balloon. Since a balloon has resistance, it is easier to feel the right body move to breathe out completely. Moreover, you can feel your intercostal muscles, abdominal muscles, and lower hip muscles constrict.
This exercise will help you get used to breathing more air out, relaxing your body, and thus exchanging air more efficiently. In addition, the balloon exercise is quite effective for waist size reduction! (I’m mentioning again that sit-ups won’t help reduce waist size). Moreover, the muscles used for breathing are in coordination with the pelvic floor. If you are suffering from pelvic problems like incontinence, this balloon exercise is recommended.
For those who have trouble inhaling, the first step is to improve your exhalation. Many people with inhalation problems have weakened intercostal muscles and diaphragm. While it is a trait for some people, many others experience this as a result of ineffective exhaling.
Let me explain this with an example. Flared Rib is a condition that weakens the core muscles that function to prevent lower ribcage from protruding. If the lower ribcage is unstable, the diaphragm cannot stretch down the lungs, and therefore inhalation becomes ineffective. It is not surprising that the muscles that hold lower ribcage are the same ones that support exhalation. Therefore, without mastering the right exhalation and training your breathing muscles, it is impossible to fix the inhalation problem. A piece of equipment like Power Lung is recommended while breathing through a straw is also effective.
Although we know how to breathe by nature, the mechanism of breathing is very complex. This action that we take over 20,000 times a day is essential to our life. It can affect the neck, shoulders, and lower back as well as pelvic conditions, posture, and even personality. Please take the time to think about your breathing and compare it to other people. There is a lot to find out about your body. A simple breathing exercise might have a drastic effect on your preexisting concerns!