First off, you may be thinking 'how could breathing ever be done wrong?'
Well, it's not so much wrong as it is inefficient.
Secondly, breathing right is not a magical all-in-one cure for pain, anxiety and the like, but let me tell you: if you're not breathing correctly you're not on your way to recovery, and it could very well be fuelling your condition!
Now, I'm not going to get into the anatomy of breathing, you can find a youtube video for that. What I will discuss is how you should be breathing, why it's a bad thing.
I'm going to break this down into three very simple components. Simplicity is best.
Feel free to stop reading after these three points unless you want to know more about breathing and hyperventilation and how that could be having effects on your body and mind.
1. Breathe in and out through the nose...always!
A nose is perfect for breathing! It warms the air, filters little nasties that then get gobbled up and expelled through the lymphatic system, and it doesn't require any effort to allow the air in!
Breathing through the nose connects with your diaphragm which means easier breathing, core activation, and a happier you.
Breathing in and out through the mouth does none of those things.
2. Belly breathe
When you breathe in, allow your stomach to expand out. You when breathe out allow your stomach to sink back in. Simple.
At a state of rest you should not be using upper neck and chest muscles to force in breath.
Your ribs will expand and contract a little, that's normal. But you should not be forcing your body upwards and outwards.
Breath in = stomach out
Breath out = stomach in
3. Don't force it.
You shouldn't overthink breathing (ironic, I know) and force it in and out.
Constant deep diaphragmatic breathing can be bad for you, too! Deep breathing exercises tell us to do just that. breathe deep. Yes, they're great for a short little exercise and to get a catch up with our breath, however, your breath should naturally fall in and out of you without too much thought or effort.
Getting all balled up in your breathing (even if your intentions are to relax through deep breathing) can create just as much dysfunction as its trying to solve.
Simply do this, every day...for the rest of your life...
Poor breathing habits are linked to anxiety, soft tissue trauma, emotional trauma, learned traits and habits from others, posture, diet... the list could go on. This needs to be addressed at some stage, yes, but what's important is knowing you're doing it. Wrong, that is.
And as to what came first, the condition or the dysfunctional breathing, that's anyones guess. Probably yours, actually.
Ineffective breathing is mostly when we shallow breathe and don't use our diaphragm (in our abdomen). Instead we can get into a habit of breathing through our mouths and using our upper chest and neck muscles to breathe.
This is called upper chest breathing, and too much of it leads to hyperventilation syndrome.
It's common in those who suffer from panic attacks, anxiety or are highly strung. I think unless you've paid attention to your breathing before, you may be an upper chest breather and not know about it. *Gasp!*
A person doesn't need to be sitting there wheezing as if they've had a bucket load of spiders and centipedes poured on them to be classed as hyperventilating.
Just breathing through the mouth and upper chest, even if seemingly calm, can still result in hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is the act of breathing out excessively, i.e., releasing too much CO2.
Recall ever blowing up balloons for a party and just feeling whoozy afterwards. That's hyperventilation. Mouth breathing, using only your upper chest to breathe has the same, albeit cumulative, effect
Upper chest breathing is labour intensive. Why make things harder for yourself? Whats more is that we breathe off too much CO2 and change our blood pH level (more on this soon) .
All this leads to a number of effects...
> Dizziness, light headedness, poor balance
> Tunnel vision
> Brain fog and poor concentration
> Restless legs
> Chronic cough
> Excessive sighing or yawning (you're trying to rebalance your C02 levels)
> Muscle tension and stiffness of tissues increases
> Shallow breathing means less oxygen for energy
> It can create chest pains that mimic heart attacks
> When upper chest breathing you're not aiding in blood and lymphatic flow with your diaphragm
> High blood pressure
> Disturbed sleep
> Dental problems
> You're not warming the air (warm air= good for lungs) or filtering out pathogens
> Excessive use of the jaw and neck muscles creating tension
I'm sure there is something I'm missing out, but I think you get the point.
I'm not getting too deep into the science of it here (it'd cause us all great anxiety) but just know this:
CO2 actually helps with the unloading of oxygen from Red Blood Cells into our body.
This, in a nutshell, is called the Bohr effect. A decrease in pH (acidity) decreases red blood cells affinity for oxygen. An increase in pH (alkaline) increases red blood cells affinity for oxygen. The latter being that red blood cells don't let go of oxygen.
It's more complicated than this but essentially with hyperventilation you breathe off too much CO2 which means oxygen doesn't bump off, which means reduced oxygen to the cells, tissues and the brain, this can create fatigue and pain.
What's more is that CO2 is a vasodilator (blood vessels opening), so CO2 helps open up blood vessels to the heart, brain and muscles!
On top of all that, shallow upper chest breathing means you're not using the lower part of your lungs where more perfusion happens (oxygen getting into the blood).
And, you're using neck and chest muscles which take energy, they get tired and tight, making it harder for you to support your poor breathing habit! *Argh!*
Effectively what I'm trying to say is:
Shallow upper chest breathing/mouth breathing = not good.
No, no and no! None of those things are real and/or helpful. Except maybe snake oil. If you're a mongoose.
Just breathe normally, and naturally. Follow these exercises and practice them daily!
If you do have poor breathing habits, sleep apnea, you snore or have any of the above conditions related to dysfunctional breathing then please, I urge you, go see a breathing specialist or visit a breathing clinic.
It will change your life.
Why, what a great question, yes it can!
Massage therapy can help you relax, easing anxiety and stress. Massage can also be targeted to reducing tension and dominance of the breathing accessory muscles. Trigger points in the diaphragm or intercostal muscles (the yummy meat in between the ribs) can be addressed, allowing the muscles to work properly again.
Through massage, breathing exercises and maybe just the right amount of mindfulness about your breath, you can be back to breathing right, feeling less stressed and being in less pain.
AdvanceNMT can help with basic breathing training, posture correction and massage of the muscles that help you breathe.
Chris is a fully trained massage therapist, registered with Massage New Zealand,
he has two diplomas in therapeutic and clinical massage therapy and a certificate in relaxation.
Chris works from the historical Orewa House on the Hibiscus Coast.