Breath is life.
More dramatically put, without the breath, there is no life.
The funny (or not so funny) thing is, as important as the breath is, it happens to take a back seat for many us.
You see, our focuses tend to be on so many other things like our to do lists, finances, tending to our careers, kids, other people, and the like. All the while, these things outside of us take our attention away from our breath…and our bodies pay for it.
When we breathe, the breath helps with the following processes (to name a few):
- It calms the nerves and the mind.
- It oxygenates the blood, which helps with pain reduction.
- It helps improve posture by opening up the diaphragm and lifting our chest.
- It helps to balance the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.
- It helps lower the amount of stress hormones in blood.
- It reduces blood pressure.
- It helps balance our heart rate.
- It detoxifies the body by stimulating the lymphatic system, and this improves immunity, as a result.
So even with all of these wonderful benefits, it turns out that we only use 10% of our breathing capabilities, much like we only use 10% of our brains’ capacity! Interesting parallel, is it not?!
Why is this!? You see, although the breath falls into the parasympathetic nervous system function (i.e. “rest and digest” mode), basically meaning that we don’t have to think about breathing. The reality is, we happen to operate in the sympathetic nervous system mode (i.e. the “fight, flight and freeze”) and our breathing becomes shallow, which then negatively impacts our bodies as a result of being in a constant high state of alert.
So while breathing is part of our innate bodily function; in order to actually improve the quality of our breath, we do have to think about it, and breathing exercises can help enhance this innate function.
One of the most important muscles in the breathing process is the diaphragm. This is an umbrella shaped muscle that rests below the lungs, and connects to the sternum bone, bottom of the rib cage and thoracic spine (middle back spine).
Because so many of us breathe shallowly, the diaphragm tends to tighten up and we end up relying on neck muscles, to help with the breathing process. Yet, these muscles aren’t meant to take over breathing, and when they’re recruited to do so, they end up creating a lot of tension and ultimately pain in the neck, shoulders, upper back and even the jaw.
Now back to the diaphragm. When tension arises in this muscle, it contracts our solar plexus and slumps our shoulders, leading to rounded shoulder/forward head posture.
When our diaphragm is contracted, we don’t breathe as effectively, and the flow of oxygen throughout our body becomes diminished leading to pain and ultimately disease.
One way to stretch and strengthen the diaphragm muscle is by lying on your stomach, on a hard surface like the floor or a yoga mat on the floor. Rest your head on your hands (if this is hard on your shoulders, roll up a hand towel and place it under your forehead and place your hands under your shoulders). Once you get comfortable, take a deep breath in through your nose by breathing into your lower abdomen and press your abdomen into the floor. Then exhale out of your mouth and let your body melt into the floor, letting go of tension from your body. Repeat this at least 3 times and see how you feel.
This is just one example of the many breathwork techniques that are possible to practice.
After years of working with clients who have overdeveloped neck muscles and under developed diaphragm muscles, combined with my own healing journey, which has taken me in the direction of breathwork; I’ve felt inspired to embark on the next leg of my practitioner journey…learning the art of teaching breathwork.
To this end, I’m in the midst of completing a trauma informed breathwork certification. I’ve embarked on this journey to help enhance my own healing, along with helping to enhance yours.
So stay tuned for upcoming breathwork sessions and workshops that will be offered to you in the months ahead. Until then, let’s talk breathwork at your next session and how our bodywork sessions can help enhance your breathing.
In the meantime, breathe in, breathe out; ultimately that’s what it’s all about.