The breath of life
Since breathing is a movement pattern, it can be altered by a combination of factors. The rate, rhythm and volume of breathing are affected by physical, chemical and emotional influences. How we breathe is a habit or repetitive process, that processor pattern is controlled and regulated through the central nervous system.
Breathing has a significant role in its effect on movement quality and stability of the core and spine. If breathing is normal or “functional”, posture and stabilization of the spine will be maintained in a healthy manner. The converse is true in that dysfunctional breathing plays a key role in not only posture and stabilization of the spine, but also a myriad of other health issues.
The rhythm and quality of our breathing affects blood pH levels, making it more alkaline or acidic; and altered pH can correlate with asthma, anxiety and chronic pain syndromes. Stress, high-altitude, infection, allergies, kidney disease and even mouth breathing can affect pH levels. Short-term pH levels are regulated by the lungs, long-term regulation is by the kidneys. It is a long-term pattern of respiration and pH levels that are of concern. Breathing patterns can also be consciously restored to functional or normal patterns replacing dysfunctional patterns caused by many of these issues, especially in the pattern has been altered by musculoskeletal pain.
The relationship between the diaphragm, breathing and stabilization of the spine is closely linked. When the diaphragm is compromised and breathing patterns are altered, the spine will be involved and when the spine is involved with this function, pain, reverse is also true. Patients with a history of neck or back pain, even when the pain is gone, will most likely have an abnormal breathing pattern, causing inner core dysfunction affecting the diaphragm. Of note, epidemiology studies have shown that disorders of breathing and continuance are more closely linked to the development of low back pain than are excessive BMI and physical activity.
Breathing should begin with the diaphragm and the opening up of the lower lungs. As we move through inspiration the upper chest will be the last that is activated. A lot of people will present with shallow breathing. In other words most of their breathing is in their upper chest which leads to hyperventilation and feeds anxiety or stress situations. When you’re under stress it’s common to go into shallow breathing as a stress response but in the reverse shallow breathing can cause stress. So under stress you need to breathe slower and deeper.
Lay on your back and put one hand on your upper chest and the other over your stomach. Now take a deep breath and notice which hand moves first or if both of them move at the same time. If both of them move at the same time or the upper chest moves first you need to re-program your breathing. When you first take a deep breath the hand over your stomach should move first and you should feel the air fill up around to your back, then your upper chest should move as you fill the upper part of your lungs. With a little practice you can retrain your breathing so the diaphragm works first. As the diaphragm expands you will feel your stomach move first at the end of the complete breath your hand over your upper chest will move last; this is the proper breathing sequence.
Take time to do 10 slow deep breaths and make sure that the bottom hand moves first, you can develop proper breathing habits. Using this method you can reduce stress. If you find yourself in a stressful situation and you take a deep cleansing breath and then 10 slow deep breaths engaging the diaphragm first this will have a calming effect on your system. This will help your body learn how to handle stress in a more positive manner. This 10 breaths training can also be helpful when you want to fall asleep, because this calms the nervous system.