Breathing and Posture for Better Health

You’ve decided it’s time to take control over your life. You start by vowing to eat better and exercise regularly. But, stress overload and chronic pain issues cause our new attitude to quickly fall back into old routines – poor exercise and eating regimes. Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and focus on the basics first. What do I mean about basics? – Proper posture and most of all, proper breathing!

Breathing? By now you’re saying – but we all breathe! It is a normal, automatic thing we do every day! And, you are absolutely correct! If we didn’t breathe, we wouldn’t be here! In fact, the average person breaths 12 – 15 times per minute – that’s roughly 20,000 times per day!

And sure, we all know the importance of breathing while we exercise – holding your breath diminishes the oxygen supply to muscles and causes things like increased blood pressure. Anyone who has ever done any sort of exercise knows this! But, inefficient breathing patterns lead to dysfunction, not only structurally, but also physiologically (how the body functions). And most of us, take breathing for granted. But what you may not realize isÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ you may not be breathing in the most efficient manner!

Apical breathing, where you utilize only the upper chest, or the apex (the pointed extreme) of the lungs, is ineffective. It is a common technique for those suffering from pain syndromes, stress or respiratory dysfunctions, such as asthma. Breathing becomes shallow -almost forced – limiting the actual air you get into your body.

Paradoxical breathing, a technique utilized by many professions, such as dancers and gymnasts, occurs when the abdomen does not extend with intake of air. The abdominal muscles do not relax, which holds the organs in your abdomen immobile. In turn, the lateral ribs and the scalenes, the muscles in your neck that assist with rib elevation, must compensate.

Diaphragmatic breathing, utilizes not only your chest, but your abdomen as well. It promotes relaxation by decreasing the effects of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls your “fight/flight response – our reaction to stress. Proper breathing is the easiest way to achieve relaxation, optimally utilize the air we breathe and change your perception of pain.

But, before we focus on our breathing, we must take a quick look at our posture. In normal posture, gravity acts in a balanced line on the curves of your spine. People who “slump” their shoulders decrease the space in their chest and abdomen, making proper breathing more difficult – and makes you look un-confident and unfit!

It is best to realign yourself by pulling your shoulders back, opening up your chest (an easy way to look and feel better!). If this is difficult – lie on your back. This is also the best way to practice diaphragmatic breathing. This assures the chest to be as open as possible. Those of us suffering from back pain can place a small roll under your knees to take the pressure off of the low back.

Breathing is an important technique to utilize, especially during pain and stress episodes. You should breath in through the nose, which warms and filters air before entering the lungs. Exhalation, or blowing the air out of your lungs, should be performed through the mouth.

Relaxed inhalation allows for you diaphragm, your major breathing muscle, and the rest of the muscles required for efficient breathing, to increase the space in your chest and decrease the air pressure in your lungs. This allows air to move more efficiently into the lungs.

Conversely, relaxed exhalation, which is a passive process, involves the relaxation of all the muscles used to breathe. This rhythmic action creates a vacuum, which facilitates the circulation blood and lymphatic fluid from the legs and lower torso back to the heart. It also allows for effective intake of oxygen and output of carbon dioxide.

Again, you breathe everyday, you may argue. This is true, but are you utilizing the most effective method? Your whole upper chest should be moving. Do these simple checks.

First, place your hands on your abdomen, and draw in air. Does your stomach expand?

Next, place your hands on your rib cage. Does your chest expand outwards when you draw in a breath?

And finally – how about your chest? Put your hand you’re your chest – does it rise? You should fill your entire upper torso with air when you breathe.

When you expel the air, you should not force the air out, yet all the muscles should relax in your abdomen, chest/ribs area and your neck. And, in actuality, your shoulders should come down. Care should be taken to keep breathing focused and relaxed, especially during times of increased pain or stress. Breathing should not be forced, and care should be taken to avoid hyperventilation.

Hyperventilation occurs in forced breathing. It results in carbon dioxide depletion with accompanying symptoms such as falls in blood pressure and vasoconstriction. It can also lead to fainting, and it is common in stressful situations.

Proper diaphragmatic breathing increases relaxation, lymphatic flow and efficiency of gas exchange – most important to maintaining proper health of our tissues and muscles. Oxygen deficiency, especially after periods of strenuous activities, causes an increase in lactic acid, which makes our muscles sore.

Proper air intake allows the body to oxygenate the acids and replenish the compounds necessary for muscle energy. This allows our bodies to recuperate and ready itself for the next physical activity. Also, it facilitates stretching techniques, which allows for full relaxation of the muscles. Thus you gain some control over stress and pain.

Will proper posture and breathing rid your body of stress? It is the easiest, most effective way to decrease stress. And what about pain – does it rid your body of pain? Proper breathing allows for more effective relaxation and oxygen intake, thus decreasing your perception of pain. And while chronic pain syndromes may require further action, it is the best place to start. And best of all, it only takes a few minutes – and, its effects can be most beneficial!

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