Thriving Blog & Magazine
Improve Your Health and Well-Being One Breath at a Time
Julie Blandin

Dysfunctional or inefficient breathing is a very common problem affecting many people and they don’t even know it. (You probably took a deep breath just now, didn’t you?) Many of us take our breathing for granted, yet it’s a function of the body that can be consciously controlled, trained and optimized to support our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Breathing imbalances affect many systems of the body, and when your breathing is out of tune with what your body needs, your mind and reflexes take over. Within a short period of time, inefficient patterns will affect various body functions, your thoughts and emotions, and create tension patterns in your posture. 

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What’s the perfect way to breathe, you ask? 

Oh, if it were only that simple. Unfortunately, there is no perfect way to breathe. Functional breathing requires flexibility and variability in order to meet multiple functions and homeostatic needs for well-being and health. Your ribcage has to remain flexible and your chest wall should be able to expand and stretch in various dimensions. 

There are common themes and general recommendations in many different breathing exercises, and in order to pick the best kind of breathing exercise for you, you’ll want to identify some of your bad breathing habits, as well as the function of breathing you may want to optimize… Are you looking to improve your posture and how your body moves, how your body rests and sleeps, or how you handle stress and regulate your emotions? 

Here are some of the most common signs of imbalanced, inefficient or dysfunctional breathing:

Mouth Breathing

Habitual mouth breathing promotes overbreathing and has negative long-term effects on health. A mouth-breather can carry excessive tension throughout the body, which can affect the resting posture and movement of their neck, jaw, shoulders, lower back and hips. It can also lead to numbness and tingling in the limbs, headaches/migraines, chronic fatigue, anxiety, brain fog or poor concentration, not to mention, it also leads to sleep disorders, bad breath, gum or dental problems and facial structure differences. 

Vertical Airflow

Vertical breathing is when you breathe in, an upward movement of your shoulders and chest will be observed as your neck and back muscles are being used more than your diaphragm. The accessory or reflexive breathing muscles lift and pull your rib cage upward toward your ears. This type of breathing causes excessive muscle tension to build up in your neck and lower back, and will often alter your body’s natural spinal curves and pelvic posture. Chronic vertical-breathers often have a loss of their cervical curvature and excessive anterior pelvic tilt posturing. Vertical breathing is a natural response when under stress or in a fight-or-flight nervous state, however just sitting and resting, like while sitting at your work desk, is not a time when you should be breathing with your neck, shoulders or lower back muscles.  

Belly Breathing

Belly breathing often gets confused with diaphragmatic breathing, but think about it, do you have lungs in your belly? Nope, you sure don’t! Belly breathing is when your abdomen expands and rises more than your chest, and people are often instructed to do this to help them slow their breathing in order to calm down and get in tune with their minds. The meditative benefits from such a breathing recommendation actually occurs as their airflow pattern changes. As their mind focuses to draw the air in low, it slows down their breathing. Their breathing pattern changes as the pace and timing of their breath changes, which helps the nervous system switch into a more relaxed state. That said, Belly breathing is not an effective form of breathing because it over lengthens the abdominal wall, and the abdominals are key supportive muscles for the diaphragm. It’s important that your diaphragm and abdominal muscles stay in sync as they are your primary core stabilization muscles, working together to support how your spine moves and handles load. Instead of belly breathing, I often encourage a low, three-dimensional ribcage expansion and a synchronized rise of the belly and chest at the same time. 

Misuse of Abdominals or Excessive Ab Bracing

If your abdominals draw inward as you inhale, that is a sign your abs are not supporting the proper movement of your diaphragm. If you use your abs like this in the wrong phase of breathing, you probably have excessive or unwanted tension somewhere throughout your neck, shoulders, back or hips as your ribs are flaring and your chest is excessively lifting upward. This also affects how your thoracic diaphragm synchronizes with the other diaphragms throughout the body. Internal pressure can be altered and moved into body cavities to cause discomfort. This breathing pattern creates rigid and stiff postural patterns and your body can lose its resilience and flexibility. 

Overbreathing

Overbreathing or hyperinflation is a hot topic in breathing health. One very simple way to know if you are an overbreather is to pay attention to the activity and force as you inhale and exhale. If your inhalation is more active, louder, or more dominant than your exhalation, which is shallow and passive, then you probably are an overbreather. Become aware of how many seconds the inhale phase of your breathing is versus your exhale. Is your inhale more active, a few seconds longer than the exhale? Can you control a pause after you exhale? Other signs of overbreathing include shortness of breath, feeling like you can’t get enough air, anxiety, high resting heart rate or respiratory rate, feeling lightheaded, faint or dizzy, frequent yawns or sighs, muscle cramps, spasms, or tingling in your hands or feet. 

These are just a few of the common themes we see as we help people improve their health and well-being one breath at a time. We encourage you to be proactive and learn how to incorporate simple breathing exercises into your daily routine. If you’re not sure where to start, download a breath-pacer app, guided meditation, or schedule an appointment to get your breathing mechanics assessed.

We are here to help you restore, revive and optimize the life force of your breath! Schedule a consultation with our Breathing Therapy experts to see how we can help you on your health and wellness journey.

Thriving Magazine September 2022 Issue 15

September Thriving Magazine • Issue 15

September is Self Care Awareness Month and our September issue of Thriving magazine is focused on just that… With an emphasis on setting yourself up for aging with vitality. The choices we make today will have a huge impact on our future selves, and we want to help you lead healthy, strong and energetic lives. Enjoy!

Articles are written by our experts in physical therapy, fitness training, chiropractic care. nutrition, massage, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and energy healing.