Why It’s so Vital, and How To Do It Well
The human body can survive 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, but only 3 minutes without air and yet breathing is something we generally give very little thought to. Breathing properly can have a huge impact on our overall health and wellbeing and it can be used as a tool to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
The Osteopaths here at North Carlton Osteopathy frequently discuss the importance of breathing with our patients. Often breathing dysfunction is tied in with whatever ailment they present with, so we often treat all the structures associated with breathing – the rib cage, diaphragm, thoracic spine just to name a few.
So, let’s firstly take a look at the functions of breathing
Breathing sustains life by providing oxygen needed for metabolism and removing the by-product of these reactions, carbon dioxide. It is also one of the major regulators of pH within the body and has influence over the autonomic nervous system, circulatory system and metabolism.
The Diaphragm – what is it?
The diaphragm is our main respiratory muscle. It is dome shaped and sits at the base of the lungs. When we inhale our diaphragm moves downwards, massaging the abdominal contents and creating space allowing the lungs to expand. When we exhale, the opposite happens.
How we breathe is important (nose V’s mouth)
The nose is built with a specific purpose: to support our respiratory system. The primary purpose of the mouth, on the other hand, is to start the digestive process. Nasal breathing filters allergens and foreign bodies from entering the lungs and adds moisture and warmth to inhaled air. On the other hand, mouth breathing is linked to a number of health conditions such as sleep problems, tooth decay and learning difficulties.
How we feel can affect our breathing
Unfortunately, increased anxiety, tension and stress in our lives can lead to more rapid and shallow breathing (also known as chest breathing). When we do this, we do not fully engage our diaphragm and instead we overuse our neck, chest and shoulder muscles which can lead to pain, tightness and headaches.
But we can also use breathing to affect how we feel
By engaging in deliberate diaphragmatic breathing throughout the day we can get our fight and flight to switch off and our rest and digest to switch on. This allows our body to renew, restore and rebalance itself. Diaphragmatic and nasal breathing can help to change the pH level of our blood, boost digestion and immunity, lower heart rate and cortisol levels helping with anxiety levels and tension.
The best way to try these breathing exercises at home is to:
- Either sit comfortably on a chair or with legs crossed or lie down on your back with your knees bent.
- Place your hands on the sides of your lower ribcage.
- Breath in slowly and deeply through your nose. You should feel your hands moving apart/pushing out to the side of your body
- Make sure your upper chest is not rising thereby ensuring you are using your diaphragm and not your accessory muscles (i.e. neck and chest muscles).
- Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and breath out gently through your mouth for 4 seconds – do not force the air out. Keep your breathing slow and controlled and make sure to keep your belly relaxed.
- You can play around with the timing of your breath cycle:
- Other options would be inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds.
- Inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds.
Do what feels right for you.
- Aim to repeat 10 cycles or again what feels right.
For more guidance on breathing, and maybe something more specific for you, please get in touch with your Osteopath here at North Carlton Osteopathy. You can call 9380 4626 or book online here.
By Dr Jennifer Guy – Osteopath at North Carlton Osteopathy. To find out more about Jennifer or any of the Osteopaths here at NCO, click here.