By Karen Perry, a freelance writer with a passion for health and wellness.
Breathing is so automatic that it’s easy to take for granted. The way we breathe may be habitual but it directly affects our central nervous system and plays a significant role in our posture and stabilization of the spine. Improper breathing habits can adversely affect our health in many ways and contribute to conditions such as:
- Chronic pain syndromes
- Muscle pain
- Digestive conditions
Why We Breathe the Way We Do
Many factors affect the way we breathe. Emotional stress, anxiety, allergies, asthma and chronic pain can all cause us to have unhealthy breathing patterns. Some of us are even guilty of taking shallow breaths in an attempt to “suck in” our bellies, potentially leading to musculoskeletal imbalances. As we become accustomed to breathing a certain way, unhealthy habits occur unconsciously.
Chest Breathing vs. Abdominal Breathing
When most people think of breathing they think of the diaphragm, a large muscle located between the chest and abdomen. It’s the most important muscle involved in healthy breathing. Many of us aren’t properly using the diaphragm and breathe “vertically”, causing our chest to rise and fall instead of our abdomen. This is also known as “chest breathing”. This type of breathing is innately shallow and results in less oxygen delivery to the blood and over time, can disrupt normal bodily functions. As other muscles become utilized instead of the diaphragm, cervical pain, headaches, shoulder pain and lumbar spine instability can occur. Chest breathing can also lead to digestion issues since breathing plays a key role in rejuvenating the digestive system with fresh blood, oxygen and fluids.
It’s easy to become more aware of your breathing. To see if you’re a chest breather, place your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your abdomen and breathe naturally through your nose. If your right hand rises higher than your left, you’re breathing primarily with your chest instead of your abdomen.
The proper way to breathe is to fully inhale into your abdomen. You should be able to see your stomach rise and fall with each breath. Picture yourself breathing like a baby or a crocodile, allowing your abdomen to expand on your inhale and contract on your exhale. It takes practice but is well worth the effort.
Benefits of Proper Breathing
Breathing abdominally can have near instant positive effects on your level of stress and state of mind. In addition to helping to eliminate toxins from the body, abdominal breathing helps stabilize your lower back. When we breathe correctly, the alignment of our musculoskeletal system and our posture is improved, often resulting in less pain. Since breathing is the only bodily function that we do both consciously and unconsciously, it’s relatively easy to break poor habits. As you learn to breathe correctly, it’ll become natural and automatic to you, helping to improve your overall health.
With a proper breathing assessment, Dr. Tompkins can evaluate your breathing patterns. From there, he may treat functional imbalances and/or suggest a few minutes of daily breathing exercises. Call 520-572-2596 to schedule an appointment today.