Breathing - You're Probably Doing it All Wrong

Breathing is innate, we do it constantly from the moment we are born to the moment we die, so why then do so many people breathe poorly and what consequences does this have on our health?

The research into breathing and heath is disappointingly lacking, but the research that is out there is overwhelmingly positive. A review by Russo et al showed slow breathing has significant effects on the respiratory, cardiovascular, cardiorespiratory and autonomic nervous systems. All of which is very topical with the stress we are under due to a respiratory virus that is affecting our world.

If you suffer from anxiety, stress, insomnia, neck pain, fibromyalgia or high blood pressure keep reading.

Our breathing style is intertwined with our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The sympathetic nervous system is what we know as the "fight or flight response”. It is a natural response to stress, allowing the body to prepare for danger. During a "fight or flight" scenario our physiology adapts to allow us to run faster or prepare to fight for our lives. Our energy switches from activities like digestion to running or fighting and our breathing changes from deep and slow belly breaths, using the diaphragm, to fast and shallow breaths, using the neck and chest.

The parasympathetic nervous system, also known as our “rest and digest” system is what we want to spend most of our time in. In this state we take deep, slow breaths, keeping our blood pressure low. This helps digestion as well as breaking down old useless cells and attack invading cells.

However, most of us provoke the fight or flight response way too often. As we rarely need to run away from something dangerous, we now invoke this response to everyday stressors, such as worrying about a deadline or a client.

It is thought that by spending too much time in fight or flight we open ourselves up to a range of potential health problems such as;

  • high blood pressure

  • a suppressed immune system

  • increasing susceptibility to colds and other illnesses

  • anxiety

  • insomnia

  • depression

The good news is, we can purposefully put ourselves into the parasympathetic nervous system by practicing deep and slow breathing. Research has demonstrated that deep breathing techniques can lower stress, decrease blood pressure, improve quality of sleep and even improve cognitive function. This is a great antidote to the 21st Century!

So what is the best way to practice? There is a range of exercises you can do at any time, here is a simple one to start:

  1. Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest

  2. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move

  3. Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out

  4. Do this breathing 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath

  5. Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise

You can also check out our video on breathing and some simple examples of how to check your belly breaths! Click here to see the video.

Visit us at Muscle Medicine to find out more.