Recently the topic of breathing in exercise and rehabilitation has become much more popular. Maybe people are finally starting to understand the role of breathing and its effects on performance, injury prevention and recovery. “Belly breathing” or “diaphragm breathing” is our most natural and relaxed way of breathing, and mechanically speaking, is the best way to breath for optimal output. Look at the way a baby breathes. When they inhale their belly rises and on exhale their belly lowers. This is called diaphragmatic breathing – when we inhale our diaphragm descends further down into our abdomen, our belly pushes out slightly and the pelvic floor ascends.
Most of the time when I aim to teach people to ‘belly breathe’ they say “I want to avoid looking fat so I have learnt to suck my gut in – and now you want me to start pushing my belly out when I breathe?!” Trying to look thinner is one reason why many of us have adopted an altered way of breathing but what other reasons are there?
Stress/anxiety/sedentary lifestyles/poor posture typically causes ‘upper chest’ breathing whereby our upper chest rises and we get a sharp inhale of air that only reaches the tops of our lungs. This is good for times of high stress when we need a sharp increase of oxygen like in a flight or fight response. But, this type of breathing over a long period of time can cause many issues like neck/shoulder pain and pelvic floor weakness. Neck pain patients almost always show some degree of upper chest breathing due to the notion of ‘accessory muscles’ helping to get the air in quicker. These accessory muscles are situated around the front of our neck and will always be quite tender to palpate on upper chest breathers.
So start thinking about adding some diaphragm breathing into your daily routine. Whether that’s in the car, before bed or even at work – take some time out to think about how you’re breathing and you will most likely reduce some anxiety at the same time! Remember: inhale deep/ slow/low and watch your belly push outwards slightly (Not inwards!)