How you breathe is probably not something that you think about too often, which is fair enough. Breathing is an involuntary action. This means that we breathe with or without our conscious control to ensure our body gets oxygen. When we breathe, our main muscle responsible is the diaphragm. However, it’s thought that 10-20% of us actually use it. How can this be?
Firstly, why do we breathe?
Breathing supplies our bodies and its various organs with oxygen, which is vital for our survival. In fact, through our breathing we provide oxygen to our body which can not be stored and must be replenished continuously and steadily, so it is important to know how to breathe properly.
Furthermore, through our breathing, we bring not only oxygen to our body but also excrete waste products and toxic substances that we have created, such as carbon dioxide. With bad breathing, these can easily stagnate in our bodies and influence our vital functions and how we feel.
So how do we breathe?
The diaphragm is our main primary respiratory muscle. It is dome shaped and sits at the base of the lungs. When we inhale our diaphragm moves downwards, massaging the abdominal contents and creating space allowing the lungs to expand and oxygen to enter our system
Why diaphragm breathing is important
Diaphragmatic breathing plays an important role in a number of body processes
- It helps to regulate the pH level of our blood and boost digestion
- It filters and warms the air entering our lungs, which reduces our risk of infection
- Helps reduce heart rate.
- When the lower lungs are engaged (which contain parasympathetic nerve receptors) it promotes a calming effect and allows our rest and digest system to switch on, helping those suffering from anxiety, stress and tension throughout the body.
How do most of us breathe?
Unfortunately, most people don’t use their diaphragms to breathe. Increased anxiety, tension and stress in our lives can lead to more rapid and shallow breathing (also known as chest breathing). When we do this, we do not fully engage our diaphragm and instead we overuse our neck, chest and shoulder muscles which can lead to pain, tightness and headaches.
How our Osteopaths can help
Our Osteopaths observe breathing in many patients especially those presenting with pain in the neck, back, shoulders or suffering from stress, anxiety or associated respiratory issues. We look to identify restrictions through these areas and use ‘hands on’ osteopathic techniques to help reduce muscle tension and pain, improve mobility and then re-train your diaphragm through breathing exercises.
If you think you may be a shallow chest breather, try the below exercise at home to see if it helps. Alternatively, come in and talk to one of our Osteopaths here at Sports & Spinal Albury Wodonga.
- To start, either sit comfortably on a chair or lie down on your back with your knees bent.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abdomen.
- Breath in slowly and deeply through your nose. You should feel your hand rising on the abdomen.
- Make sure your upper chest is not rising thereby ensuring you are using your diaphragm and not your accessory muscles (i.e. neck and chest muscles).
- Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and breath out gently through your mouth for 4 seconds – do not force the air out. Keep your breathing slow and controlled and make sure to keep your belly relaxed
- Try this consciously for 5 minutes.