Breathing Optimally: Part 2
In part 2 of this blog post, we will continue to explore key concepts relating to breathing, and talk about how this relates to your movement patterns, and any pain you might be experiencing.
In Part 1, we spoke about the importance of quiet breathing.
It is a great idea to practice calmer and slower breathing during your rest period. By dedicating some time to this as a daily exercise drill, we teach the body to breathe more optimally.
Breathing patterns at rest will then determine how we breathe during sleep and exercise - not the other way round - so we become better at that, too.
Optimal breathing is correlated with generation of proper intra abdominal pressure for core stability and spinal stabilisation. This is because we are able to use our abdominal muscles in conjunction with the diaphragm, creating deep level spinal stability where it is needed, protecting us against disc herniation when lifting heavier than normal items.
Long term breathing dysfunction is correlated with back and neck pain, anxiety and depression. There are several mechanisms through which this happens, although researchers have not got to the bottom of it all fully. Here is my take on this.
Firstly, by tensing up and breathing high into the chest and neck, we effectively switching off our optimal calm breathing through the ribs and belly, which starts impacting intra-abdominal pressure. We stop managing this pressure terribly well. We lose a bit of our core stability. After this, superficial muscles in the back tense up as a consequence, and for some, the pull goes up into the neck.
This might contribute to headaches and explain why some people feel stress tension in the back, and some in the neck.
If you are prone to back pain, for instance, you might have observed that you feel less or no discomfort when you are happy or focussing on a pleasurable activity, but when you are highly stressed, you can really feel it. Can you relate?
Secondly, by doing high stress breathing, we downregulate our vagus nerve - reduce its activity. This nerve is responsible for keeping our system in a calm relaxed state, the "rest and digest" state which is the opposite of "fight and flight".
Initially, our internal regulation of stress hormones is impacted and we start pumping more adrenaline and cortisol into our system. This contributes to any existing sense of anxiety.
If the overload is not too high, we can also become more sensitised to pain as the nervous system comes into an "upregulated" state - revved up, as it were. This can increase feelings of chronic pain and even remind us of past injuries long after they are healed.
If we get into a vicious circle with high stress breathing generating more stress which further generates stress breathing patterns - think hyperventilation - we can come to a state of stress overload and even reach the point of nervous exhaustion and collapse. We can feel hopeless and eventually can barely move. This is the ultimate "freeze" state and is associated with deep hopeless depression. Again, breathing here is an important factor. For many, hyperventilation is a case of being skillfully guided out of it. However if there are other factors, like existing depression, more urgent psychological support is needed.
In sum, breathing is an amazing function, much underrated by some, until we start realising its life giving properties and then becoming aware of its key physiological aspects. It reduces pain and tension, helps us stay strong and centred and acts in many other multiple positive ways on our nervous system.
I would encourage you to practice breathing drills daily to help your long term physical and mental health.
If you would like to learn more about this - so please comment to register your interest!
To your health,