How often do you think about your breath?
Chances are, if you have come to see me in the clinic this will be one of the questions I ask you. More often than not, this question is met with a puzzled look from my clients, and the common response is ‘not much…’
This article aims to explain why breathing is such a focus of Pilates and Physiotherapy at Reform. Over the last 100 years have seen an enormous shift in the way that we live and work and this has led to a huge impact on the way that we breathe. Due to prolonged hours sitting in front of a computer and with many of us not performing enough, or regular, cardiovascular exercise means we are not using our diaphragm as efficiently as we could be.
The diaphragm is a thin skeletal muscle that sits at the base of the ribs and separates the abdomen from the chest. It contracts and flattens when you inhale, this creates a vacuum effect that pulls air into the lungs and when you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the air is pushed out of the lungs.
It is important that you understand the diaphragms function as this will help you to understand the cue ‘when you breathe in the chest wall should expand and inflate and when you breathe out it deflates’.
To assess if you have any breathing ‘dysfunction’, sit up tall in your chair, place one hand on your upper chest and one on your stomach. When you breathe in you should feel outward movement into both your hands at the same time. If you struggle to feel any movement over the bottom hand but lots of movement into your upper hand, fear not, you are not alone, and there are some simple ways on how to reverse this!
Place your hands on either side of your ribs and when you breathe in aim to feel your ribs expand outwards, this is focusing the work of your breath into the diaphragm. By increasing
your diaphragmatic movement you can increase your lymph fluid movement which facilitates the body in removing its toxins and waste. Normal respiratory rate is recorded at between 12-16 breaths per minute, but research has shown that by breathing just 6 times a minute lung capacity is increased by up to 85%, with breathing, less is more! Breathing more in line with your body’s metabolic needs increases our efficiency as a whole. You wouldnt sit at a traffic light revving your car engine, knowing that would wear the engine out faster, so why sit still with a high respiratory rate. Try inhale for a count of 5 and then exhale for a count of 5, with these longer and deeper breaths, it encourages your body to enter a parasympathetic state, which is one of the biggest ways to reduce inflammation.
Taking the time to be more conscious of your breathing can show you just how much you can control ‘how’ and ‘where’ you breathe. You cannot take conscious control of your heart rate, blood pressure or your liver function but you can take control of your breath, which will have an influence on all of these bodily functions. Oxygen is absorbed in the lungs and most oxygen is absorbed in the lower lobes of the lungs, this is because blood is gravity dependent and therefore there is more blood in the bottom of the lungs. So taking these longer deeper breaths can help you feel more invigorated and awake.
The best thing about ‘breath work’ is that it is free and accessible to anyone! Give it a try and see what can happen within just a couple of minutes.