- Posted by Christine
- On February 20, 2023
“Just breathe!” This is often much easier said than done! There is a great deal that goes into healthy breathing, especially given the stressors of the twenty-first century. Breathing is foundational to our health and yet many of us are not breathing well.
Dysfunctional breathing can impact many facets of our lives, including our sleep quality and ability to heal. Over-breathing (taking more than 14 breaths per minute) is one type of dysfunctional breathing that dials up our sympathetic nervous system (SNS or “fight-or-flight” mode), which can increase anxiety, which in turn increases our drive to breath even faster. Even our ability to hold good posture and balance is impacted by our breath: Your diaphragm should be your primary breathing muscle, however it is also a muscle that stabilizes your body. Research suggests that breathing pattern disorders are linked to low back pain through non-optimal coordination of the postural and respiratory muscles in our torso.
Key Features of Breathing Well
- Breathe in and out through your nose;
- Inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 5-6 seconds (10-14 breaths/min);
- Low and slow: breath low into your belly or pelvis, and breathe slowly; and
- Keep your shoulders relaxed.
Home Breathing Practice
I often suggest to my clients that they lie on their back in a comfortable and quiet space to practice their breathing. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. Ideally, for relaxed breathing, the hand on your chest doesn’t move very much and the hand on your stomach moves outward as you inhale. (Try not to force your stomach outwards to create this movement.) Another position that can be helpful is called the beach pose: Lie on your back with your hands behind you head (like you are sun-tanning at the beach). This reduces tension on the neck muscles and can increase diaphragm activity. Practice your breathing for 5-10 minutes a day to help change dysfunctional patterns.