This may sound like a crazy question but believe it or not most people do not breath properly, in fact poor breathing patterns are as common as poor posture. Furthermore, typically if you have poor posture your breathing is effected and vice averse. Fortunately, there is a simple test you can do at home to find out whether you are breathing optimally. Plus I will explain exercises to correct the problem.
The diaphragm is the primary breathing muscle, it also helps to stabilize our lower back when we lift heavy loads. The diaphragm is shaped like a parachute and attaches to the inside of the ribs and lumbar spine. As we breath in the diaphragm contracts dropping downward and as we exhale the diaphragm relaxes. This ensures enough air is entering the lungs and oxygen is going to the blood and brain.
Here is a simple test to find out if you are breathing properly:
While standing, place one hand on your chest/sternum and the other hand on your belly (just above your belly button);
At a normal pace inhale and exhale, as you inhale take note if your chest and shoulders raise toward the ceiling or if your belly and ribs expand outward.
If your chest raised toward the ceiling this could mean you are a “chest breather”. This is technically shallow breathing which means you are NOT getting the maximum amount of oxygen to your lungs and brain (scary right?). This can lead to neck pains, headaches, shoulder pain, middle and lower back pain, high blood pressure and increased heart rate because the heart has to pump more blood to the lungs to supply more oxygen to the brain. It can cause lead to hiatal hernias which is a dysfunction in the diaphragm and can cause acid reflux and much more. These are all things that accumulate over time; they don’t just pop up. It is almost certain
that when you go to your doctor for any one of the above symptoms including blood pressure and increased heart rate, you are prescribed muscle relaxers or blood pressure meds before taking a more conservative approach to see if you are doing the one thing that is essential for living correctly, breathing.
Common daily habits that can disrupt your breathing patterns:
Poor Posture. Posture is very important to make sure your joints are in optimal alignment so your muscles can work effectively with out fatiguing and allowing you to stand up tall to maximize on lung volume.
Sitting at a desk for long periods of time. This puts you in a forward flexed position decreasing the space for your lungs and diaphragm to expand naturally. It will also cause your postural muscles to become weak facilitating poor postural patterns.
Increased Stress. Three types of stresses the body experiences are Thoughts, Traumas, and Toxins. Negative thoughts, physical injuries, and a poor diets are pretty much the only stressors you experience and they all can influence dysfunction breathing patterns causing your neck and chest muscle to do the job of the diaphragm with out even noticing. Ever hear someone call you a pain in the neck when your stressing them out ? you got it that’s where that came from.
Dysfunctional Sleep. Sleeping habits can affect your breathing as well. Ideally you want to retrain your self to sleep on your back. This allows the lungs to expand fully, optimizes circulation and also keeps the neck in an optimal position for healthy nerve supply to the diaphragm.
Exercise to improve your breathing patterns:
Laying on your back(supine) with knees slightly bent with one hand on your belly one on your chest inhaling and exhaling. As you inhale make it a point to feel your belly move upward toward the ceiling and ribs expand sideways for the first 2/3rds of your Breath (inhale) and then the chest will follow (you can also try this seated then standing.) Remember the diaphragm stabilizes the spine so it may be difficult to try these exercises standing in the beginning. Perform this 5 minutes to create muscle memory.
Practice this exercise daily, make it a routine. If you practice this you body will accept it and it will become your normal way of breath. Always remember the body wants to do what it’s meant to do; your body will adapt to diaphragmatic breathing pretty quickly if you practice and be conscious of some of the daily habits that can be negatively influencing your breathing.