We all know how to breathe, right? It’s a natural and essential function of life. But do we know how to breathe efficiently? Effectively?
How does the quality of how we breathe affect aspects of our daily lives?
Deep Breath Test: Lay on your back, knees bent, feet flat in the floor. Right hand on belly, left hand on chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Are you breathing through your chest only? Or pulling air through your diaphragm into your belly? Did your hands move when you breathed in? Which hand moved more? Did you feel any tension along your sides, back or chest?
Often the muscles and fascia of our respiratory system can be restricted and can impede the quality of our breathing and often lead to muscle/fascial tension (and sometimes pain). Working on those areas can release that tension and improve our respiratory function.
What are some of the treatments that can help improve our breathing?
Massage Therapy: Your Registered Massage Therapist can work on the soft tissues around your respiratory system: the diaphragm, rib intercostals, scalenes (lateral neck muscles) and quadratus lumborum. This treatment technique will be especially beneficial if any of these areas are tight. Fascial techniques1 also work particularly well. This can help improve movement and reduce tension that can build up around the thoracic spine and rib cage, therefore improving breath function. Some secondary benefits to Fascial work in this region is the reduction of back pain. If the anterior fascial lines are restricted and causing tension –you may get radiating pain along the sides of your body and back. Releasing the anterior fascial lines can alleviate this discomfort significantly.
Pilates/Yoga: A trained Pilates or Yoga instructor can work with you and teach you techniques to help improve your breath while encouraging a variety of different movements through your thoracic spine and rib cage. Together you will learn how your body works and what your compensation strategies are. Once you understand your body better, you can work on your areas of weakness to prevent the buildup of tightness around the respiratory structures.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise: Just like the breathing test from above you can practice deep breathing exercises to improve your breathing and promote mobility of the tissues from the inside out. Lay flat on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and your shoulders, head and neck relaxed. Inhale slowly through your nose pushing the air to your stomach so it moves out against the hand that is resting on your stomach. Your chest should remain as still as possible.
Hold the inhale for a count of 2 before exhaling.
On the exhale, tighten your stomach muscles as you breath out slowly through pursed lips. The hand on your chest should once again remain as still as possible.
What are some other benefits to improved thoracic movement and breath?
- Strengthening the diaphragm, a very important respiratory muscle
- Using less effort and energy to breathe
- Integrating core/breath function can also maximize oxygen intake and carbon dioxide outtake to our body tissues and cells.
This can lead to better athletic performance, faster recovery, tension/anxiety relief, less aches and pains, better sleep.
Who wouldn’t want that?
1 Fascial work is an advanced and aggressive technique – it should be noted that it can be uncomfortable and sometimes elicits either painful or emotional responses. Always make sure that your therapist is registered and has specialized training in these techniques.