Breathing and Health

Do you feel over-tired? Tensed up? One of the most overlooked aspects of healthy living is proper breathing. It’s so taken for granted. Yet when we breathe properly we oxygenate the nerves, muscles, blood and brain.  Failure to do so stresses the body out. When the breath is freely moving throughout the body, it enables the body and mind to function more freely.

If you take the time to learn and practice some techniques to enhance your breathing, it will help prepare you for the stresses of everyday life. In fact, medical studies show that good breathing habits can enhance your overall health.

 How do you know if you’re breathing efficiently?

First it’s important to understand a little bit about the anatomy we use to breathe. There are three primary breathing muscles:

  1. The diaphragm is responsible for 75 percent of all respiration. It’s a large dome shaped muscle separating the chest and abdominal cavities. It extends from the bottom of the front ribs to the lumbar spine in the back. When it moves without restrictions it floats up into the chest cavity and then down into the abdomen where it massages the abdominal organs.
  2. The intercostals: These muscles are located between the ribs. In short, when we breathe into the intercostals they give space for the lungs to do their job. They pull the ribs up creating higher lung volume.
  3. The abdominal muscles: When the abdomen is relaxed, it works in tandem with the diaphragm and intercostals.

Unfortunately, most people rely on the secondary breathing muscles.

Our bodies also have secondary breathing muscles in and around the upper body and the neck. Think of them as little breathing assistants. Unfortunately, these are the muscles most people rely on to breathe during the day. They tire easily because they’re so overworked. They’re meant to work for only short periods of time. They are:

  1. The Scalene – in front of the neck and attached to the upper ribs.
  2. The Sternocleidomastoid – from behind the ear to the top of the sternum and clavicle.
  3. The Upper Trapezius – runs from the top of the shoulder blades to the base of the skull.
  4. The Pectoralis Minor – in the chest.

Simple Breathing Tips for Good Health

  1. Sit in a chair. Close your eyes. Become aware of your breathing. From where on your body does feel like it’s originating?
  2. Starting with your feet do a quick body scan to find out where you might be tightening or grabbing your muscles. Allow them to release. When the muscles are released, the breath will drop down.
  3. Tension in the respiratory muscles is hard to detect. Place your hands on your abdomen and allow the breath to fill your hands. You should feel some release in your abdomen.
  4. What about your lower back? Let the breath fill the low back as well. If you often feel tightness in your back, it could be because there isn’t enough breath in the low back.
  5. Are your jaw and tongue released?

Once the muscles release, the primary respiratory muscles will do their job of drawing the air in. Let the air drop down into the abdomen. Now have a sigh of relief. Add a “hah” sound to your sigh of relief. A sigh of relief connects emotion with breath.

Note that free and open breathing takes practice. During the day, keep asking yourself if your muscles are released. Does the sound of your voice come from deep within, or from the muscles in your neck?

And when you lie down at night, observe how your breathing naturally fills the ribs, back and abdomen. Enjoy!