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  • Jessie Mayo

Just Breathe

Breathing is vital, we literally cannot live without it. Every system of the body relies on breathing and on oxygen. It is simple, but most of us can probably be breathing better and more efficiently and effectively.

Optimising breathing can help improve your movement and assist with pain management. It can also improve your mental clarity, improve your sleep quality, improve your digestion, increase your immune system and also reduce your stress or stress experience.

When exercising the focus on breathing is usually about oxygenation, however how we breathe has a significant effect on your posture and mobility. We know that improving posture and mobility help exercise performance, so if a simple step towards that goal is breathing better then get going.

Many of us breathe using the top of our lungs. Often this is as a result of illness, injury or stress. We move to a more chest-oriented breathing pattern that compromises our diaphragm function. Your diaphragm is a powerful muscle and without it working properly, you recruit you neck and shoulder muscles to 'help' with breathing. This altered breathing pattern can have follow-on effects leading to further dysfunction, muscle tightness and pain.

Breathing optimally is fundamental to our health and well being. Opening up the lower ribs and utilising our diaphragm can really help to improve our breath and our function. Place your hands on your lower ribs and try to feel them move out to the side when you inhale. As you exhale your ribs should move back in. When you are concentrating on your breathing it does not have to be focused on deep breathing. The movement of your ribs and use of your diaphragm during breathing is how your should breathe 'normally'.

Breath occurs as a result of pressure changes. By expanding your ribs and utilising your diaphragm you create a bigger space for your lungs. This bigger space becomes a negative pressure zone leading to air filling your lungs for oxygenation. As you breathe out pulling your ribs back in you create a positive pressure in your lungs leading to air going back out. Focusing on the lower rib movement is important for this to occur.

We are often told to focus on our belly rising and falling during breath. This might be helpful in altering our focus and trying to find a sense of control. However, the movement of your abdomen out when breathing doesn't have the same impact on the pressure zones of the lungs for efficient oxygen exchange.

Exhalation is just as important as inhalation. Inhalation your diaphragm is contracting and your ribs are widening. To exhale, we need our diaphragms to relax. To do this we want our ribs to come back in. To pull the ribs back in we use our oblique abdominal muscles, this is especially important with exercise. With a normal breathing rate and depth, exhalation can be passive. However we still require our diaphragm to relax.

To change your breathing pattern, find a comfortable place to sit or lie where you can be supported. First relax, breathing how you normally would. Draw your focus to what is moving to enable you to breathe. As you are getting comfortable, place one hand on the side of your ribs (often easier to place your hand on the opposite side ribs) and feel these ribs open out to the side as you breathe in. What does this feel like? How does your body feel? Stay here and practice some gentle breaths.

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