That’s right. We are going to talk about breathing.
That thing you’ve been doing since you were born.
That one thing that if you don’t do it you, you know…die.
Yes, breathing is a basic function of the body that we perform without thinking. However, breathing is the foundation for many aspects of our health and fitness. Dysfunctional breathing yields a poor foundation. And, just like you cannot build your dream house on a shaky foundation, you cannot start to improve your health until you optimize your breathing.
Just as a house built on a shaky foundation will crumble, dysfunctional breathing will eventually manifest itself in the form of nagging aches and pains, injuries, or a simple lack of progress.
So, as simple as it sounds, lets dive in and see what, exactly, is in a breath.
Breathing and Stress
Well, if you haven’t gotten the point already, breathing properly is kind of important. Breathing has a significant effect on our mood, posture, energy, and physical performance. Much of this is based on the very close relationship between breathing and stress.
Stress yields dysfunctional breathing, and dysfunctional breathing yields stress.
It’s an ugly, perpetual cycle.
Many of us fall into this cycle and it adversely effects our bodies. Dysfunctional breathing wreaks havoc on our posture and our ability to move properly. As a result, some of us end up looking like one of those half-man/half-ape guys on the evolution of man chart.
You know, the guy with rounded shoulders, a little bit of a hunchback, and a head that’s jutted forward. Others, end up looking like that bro at the gym with Permanently Flexed Lat Syndrome. (That guy who walks around with his chest puffed out like some baboon putting on a mating display.)
Now, just because you don’t look like either of these characters doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Dysfunctional breathing may also be manifesting itself in the form of aches and pains in your back, neck, or shoulders, tendonitis, numbness in your arms, poor sleep quality, or just plain stress.
Don’t Breathe Like This
So, where are we going wrong?
Well, essentially we need to relax more. Chill out.
The problem is, many of us truly don’t know how. Our breathing patterns prevent it. They keep us bound-up and stressed 24/7. Some simply can’t take a full breath, while others can’t fully exhale. Many breathe through their chest, neck, and shoulders, causing accessory breathing muscles to do all the work.
These dysfunctional breathing patterns are messing with our heads…seriously.
Our breathing patterns effect the function of our nervous system. The aforementioned breathing patterns tend to unconsciously activate the excitatory branch of our nervous system, the “fight or flight” branch. In this state, we are, essentially, constantly up-tight and on-edge.
There are certain times when this state is needed, e.g., working out, playing sports, running away from a rabid bear. However, often times we find ourselves in this state when it is not ideal, e.g., sitting at your desk, laying down to go to sleep, or driving home from work (especially if you’ve just been cut off by Corvette guy with that ridiculous vanity plate).
Breathe Like This
Now the question remains…
How can you get out of that up-tight state and chill out when you need to?
Simply by breathing the way you are designed to, by using your diaphragm.
Diaphragmatic breathing helps us shift from that excitatory state towards a more chill, relaxed state. It helps to calm and center our bodies, increasing concentration and boosting confidence. Diaphragmatic breathing shifts you to a state in which your heart rate and blood pressure are lowered and muscle tension, anger, and frustration are reduced.
Sounds freaking fantastic, right?
Of course it does. So this is how you get there…
Yes, we talkin’ bout practice.
It takes practice to learn how to properly utilize your diaphragm during respiration. But, learning how to do so will allow you to switch out of that excitatory state when needed. And, with enough practice, you will begin properly utilizing your diaphragm subconsciously.
Here’s your assignment. Perform the following exercise twice per day for 10 breaths each time. I would recommend a short, midday meditation period and before bed.
- Lie flat on your back on the floor, with your feet flat against the wall, and knees and hips bent to 90 degrees. (You may also lie flat on your back, with your knees bent to 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor)
- Place one hand on your chest and the other over your belly button. When you inhale, the hand on the belly should rise higher than the one on the chest. Be sure that you are completely relaxed through the shoulders and neck. If you are tight through your neck, try placing a pad under the back of your head.
- Once in position, begin by blowing all your air out, feeling your rib cage subtly move down and in.
- From this exhaled position, place your tongue on the roof of you mouth and inhale through your nose, feeling the belly rise, as well as expansion though your sides and low back. Keep inhaling for a 5 count. (Essentially you want 360 degrees of expansion through your midsection without your chest rising significantly.)
- Hold this full breath for a 2-4 seconds.
- Slowly exhale through the mouth for 10 seconds. Make sure you blow all of the air out, feeling you abdominals engage toward the end.
- Hold the full exhale for a 2-4 seconds.
- Repeat steps 3-5.
- If the 5 second inhale and 10 second exhale is too lengthy in the beginning, start with a 3 second inhale and 6 second exhale, then slowly work your way up.
- Once you have the hang of this, try breathing into a balloon. Perform your 5 second inhale, then exhale your entire breath forcefully into the balloon. Perform two more breath cycles then empty the balloon and perform two more sets of 3 breaths.
To some this may sound simple, to others overwhelming. Give it a shot and you’ll be amazed at the difference this will make.
It’s time to build your foundation. So, take a deep breath, chill out, and relax.