Updated: Jan 18, 2019
Mindful, deep breathing is so important for many things in our body to enhance our PHYSICAL and MENTAL health. Yes I know......we breathe everyday to survive, so how hard can it be? But if you start to pay attention and increase your body awareness, you might notice that you have a habit of breathing more shallowly into your upper lungs, or that you hold your breath when you are under stress or doing a concentrated activity. This restricts your body into not using it's full lung capacity, not using the mobility in the ribs and mid-back, and not getting full amounts of healing oxygen.
Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly….take a deep slow inhale. Where did your breath go? Which hand moved first and the most? Did the hand on your chest move more? Did your shoulders rise up? If so, you are a chest breather….which many of us are.
There is a video below - listening is so much easier than reading words on a page for this! The goal is a 360 degree breath - one that fills your lower ribs and abdomen to the front, back, and sides. See if you can draw breath all the way into your sitz bones (the bony part of your bum that you are sitting on). Let your belly expand and go for the ride.
Why is this important? Deep, diaphragmatic breathing (even just a few moments per day!) has many positive actions in the body…..
~~It sets up your inner core (including pelvic floor, deep abdominals, and low back stabilizing muscles) to engage and to work. This deep system, which is designed to fire first with movement, stabilizes you and is driven by your breath (for more details see video in the blog post entitled "what type of physical therapist am I?).....it expands with an inhale, and engages with an exhale.
~~It re-patterns your body into a “rest and restore” mode which stimulates a cascade of hormones that are different than the cortisol (stress hormone) that cycles around in “fight or flight” mode. This switch helps with all of the things listed below.
~~A Happy Brain
All beginning with a few purposeful and mindful breaths!
After birth, we often have a habit of this shallow breathing because that's what we had to do when baby was inside and we were running out of room. When we are experiencing an injury or pain, we also often start breathing with a shallow breath due to the body's pain response. And, if we are under stress, even the normal stress of an active, busy life, the natural response is also a shallow breath. There are many reasons why this style of breathing may be a habit that you are not even aware of!
So give it a try and learn a little bit about your body with the video below……..
Did you notice how you had to relax your abdominal wall and your mid-back in order to breathe in this way? Sometimes letting go of our gripped abs is the most difficult part of this exercise, but also the most important because it improves core balance. And once your lower ribs begin moving, your upper back (between the shoulderblades) gets more mobility, which is where most of us have some tightness....more benefits!
Here’s a challenge: Breathe in this way AT LEAST ONCE everyday and see how you feel! It only takes a few minutes. You can do it anytime of day of course, but my favorite is at the end of the day just before you are about to wind down in whatever way you love to do so. Just sit or lay on the floor and consciously breathe for a few minutes and let the day go. Focusing on extending the inhales and exhales like I demonstrate in the video brings your attention inward and quiets your mind. After a few days, see if you notice any changes in any body, health, or sleep challenges you have been dealing with.
If you find it difficult because your ribs and thoracic spine are tight, here's one way to stretch and open up. While you're in a deep squat, breathe deep and you will feel it in your back body and ribs. This is also great for your hips and low back.
Good luck and happy breathing!