Improving your breathing for a healthier life

Breathing is a daily part of our lives but we hardly think about something that occurs nearly every second of the day. With science, we know that the average human takes in oxygen from the air, where it enters our lungs, and the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide occurs. Freshly oxygenated blood from the lungs enters our heart, and is then pumped to the rest of our body, occurring every single second that we are living.

Image: Google

This simple yet intricate system of gaseous exchange that happens unconsciously is, in part, governed by our breathing. Scientifically, the term is “respiration” – a more fancy word for the process of taking air into our lungs, and breathing it out again. 

Have you ever observed a baby breathing? Their shoulders and chest are relaxed. There is a gentle rise and fall of their bellies as they inhale and exhale. Many of us do not realise that as we breathe, our chest expands and our bellies remain ‘tight’ and drawn in. 

“…we may also develop unhealthy breathing patterns such as over-breathing, chest-breathing, and holding your breath.”

We often forget the importance of breathing; in turn, forgetting that every system in the body relies on oxygen gained through that very act itself. As we go through the stresses of life, we may also develop unhealthy breathing patterns such as over-breathing, chest-breathing, and holding your breath (Perhaps you’ve found yourself forgetting to breathe?). 

Breathing habits like these lead to a shortage of oxygen and energy, creating physical stress in the body which may manifest in symptoms such as mental and physical lethargy, increased heart rate, increased feelings of stress, and upper shoulder pain when movements begin to occur through the chest and shoulders in our attempt to suck air in.

Are you a belly-breather or a chest-breather?

Take a relaxed seat and look down at your body as you breathe normally. Which rises first – belly or chest?

An optimal breathing pattern would be seeing the belly expanding first with the inhale, and then a gentle rising of the chest towards the end, before deflating on the exhale. 

A ‘tensioned’ breath is the one where upon inhale, you see your chest expanding forward or sideways and the shoulders rising with it, instead of a gentle belly expansion.

Belly breathing is natural to us! It is important as breathing is connected to the autonomic nervous system, the part of our body that regulates the ‘unconscious’ part of the body – breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, gut movements, etc.

Image: Biobeats

See Benefits of Controlled Breathing from the New York Times

When we breathe well, our circulatory system is regulated more efficiently, bringing oxygen to all parts of our bodies and keeping us from lethargy. It helps to stimulate a relaxation response, reducing tension in our bodies and lowers the risk of stress-related conditions like heart disease, digestive disorders, or sleep disorders. It can even improve our posture, as we have to sit and stand upright to allow the belly to rise and fall with breathing – indirectly helping to prevent poor posture related problems like back pain.

We do not have to be trained in meditation or yoga to start being more aware of our breathing, whether belly-breathing or chest-breathing, and it is something that we all can start being aware of now. 

We also usually do not equate the concept of ‘breathing’ with the fields of chiropractic care or physiotherapy, but if you have been having discomfort around the ribcage or chest, feeling lethargic, having constant upper shoulder pain, or even just shallow breathing, perhaps it’s time to rethink how much breathing can impact your physical body!

See Relaxation techniques to help with stress by Harvard Health Publishing

Image: Fiit

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