Author: Jamie Butcher – Osteopath
Why Learning to do it Properly is so Important
It is something we all do thousands of times every day. Whether we are awake or asleep, resting or active; to breathe is to be alive. Whilst most of us don’t take much notice of our breathing, there are a few very important reasons why we should.
- Improves blood flow
- Improves energy
- Supports a strong immune system
- Alleviates stress
Let's just touch on one of the issues most people have in life and how improving your breathing can help.
We’ve all been told at one time or another to “take a deep breath” when we have been feeling stressed. As unhelpful and annoying as this can be at the time, there is some sense behind this.
Our “fight or flight” instinct, also known as our body’s stress response, is how we decide to confront or avoid danger. When we breathe in deeply our lungs expand and compress the walls of the heart, restricting blood flow. To compensate, our heart rate increases stimulating this fight or flight stress response.
When we breathe out, the pressure in the thoracic cavity drops and the body relaxes! So, in short, it is the exhale that truly helps us relax, not taking a deep breath in!
This brings us to an issue we see regularly in clinic – people holding their breath in, or not breathing out fully. It's usually the first change when stress is encountered – holding your breath. Over time if we continue this pattern we can keep our body in the ‘fight or flight' response. Stress and anxiety anyone? No thanks.
One Simple Trick to Alleviate Stress
Next time you feel stressed or anxious make a mental note of your breathing. Are you holding your breath? Are your lungs full and chest tight? Taking a moment to forcefully exhale several times can make a big difference and quickly reduce the fight or flight response.
Try This Breathing Technique
Inna Kahzan of Harvard medical school recommends that 40% of the breath cycle is for inhaling, and 60% is for exhaling – so for a 4 second breath in, take 6 to exhale. This ensures not only a full exhale, but also slows the breathing, avoiding risks of hyperventilation which can make that stress response much worse.
Two Ways to Breathe
- Belly breathing
- Upper chest breathing
While breathing is mostly automatic, every breath is not identical. Diaphragmatic (AKA belly breathing) is best for keeping that stress response to a minimum, but unfortunately the stresses of day to day life can lead us to quickly fall into a habit of breathing into the upper chest. This is not ideal, and aside from typically shallower breathing, it can also cause tightening of muscles in the front of the neck and chest over time. If you catch yourself doing this remember the 40/60 rule and EXHALE for longer!
The stress response/breathing relationship is cyclical, so busy lifestyles often feed into poor breathing patterns. However habits form young, and breathing is no exception either. Some of our cultural expectations, such as the wish to have a flat tummy, means we learn from an early age to hold our stomach muscles in tight.
As I’m writing this, I’m trying to breathe deeply into my belly whilst hunched over my desk (like many who work in an office) – try it, it’s practically impossible. This is another great example of the importance of breathing and taking time away from the desk every so often.
If you know poor breathing habits may be contributing to your pain or symptoms come and visit one of our practitioners. If you're unsure we're more than happy to book in a 15 minute complimentary chat to see if we can help you.
Alternatively, if you're not anywhere near Wanaka or Queenstown we also love Emma Ferris the breathing physio from The Breath Effect. She has a great online course and more information on how to retrain your breathing. Click here to find out more information.
Osteopath & Sports Nutritionist
Jamie is a Queenstown based osteopath treating a full range of muscular and skeletal injuries, particularly sports injuries. He has a practical and empathetic approach and experience treating chronic pain. He finds it incredibly fulfilling to educate and help his patients who have thought they would live with pain forever.
Special areas of interest: Shoulder injuries and rehabilitation, headaches and migraines, chronic pain and arthritis of the neck and joints an exercise rehabilitation.
Favourite technique: Jamie's great with his joint manipulations, cupping and applying a gentle but highly effective treatment. He also loves teaching people breathing techniques.