Breath training is really important and here are a few reasons why.
Lately I’ve been a bit quiet with my work. This tends to happen when I take a new course or learn something that offers a new angle or even contradicts what I am already teaching. It’s an interesting place to be in. When learning a new ideology I’ll find myself surrounded by other health professionals, often times feeling inspired, often times driving home on the 405 in silence wondering if I’ve gotten in way over my head. It’s confronting when you realize that what you think you know only just scratches the surface and with each new piece of information the complexity of the human body just gets deeper.
The only thing I know to do when I get myself in a place like this is to go back to the basics and it doesn’t get any more basic than checking in with your breath. Your breathing is a regulator of so many different processes. It is a major player in regulating pH (so maybe you don’t need that alkaline water), it assists with digestion (your tummy stuff might not be your food), it helps with detoxification (which is more maintainable than a juice cleanse) and most obviously oxygen is what keeps you alive (also important!).
There’s some stat out there that we can survive however many days without food, even less without water but only 3 minutes without air. This suggests the importance of proper breathing and as such the body will do whatever it can to make sure you are adequately able to breathe. On average people breathe 10-12x per minute. A healthy individual will breathe 6-10x per minute which is in line with the peristaltic waves of the digestive system, which I don’t think is a coincidence.
So how do you know if you’re breathing right and what can you do if you’re not? Depending on how old you are, it’s actually not that easy to change. There’s another quote out there that I’ll butcher again that says “most breathing disorders are a product of nothing more insidious than habit”, meaning that 12,000 breaths a day, 365 days a year for however many years you’ve been alive is a hell of a habit builder. The first step though (and this goes for everything I teach) is awareness. Without awareness, you can’t change anything and the first thing that you need to be aware of is that the majority of your breaths should be taken through your nose.
Nose breathing is simple. Just close your mouth and you’re already on your way to better health. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, but I’ll even go as far as taping my mouth up when I sleep to help build the habit. I’ll wake up feeling more well rested and surprisingly my stomach and morning habits feel a lot smoother too. Some of the reasons for this are that the restricted airway forces you to use your diaphragm better, something I’ll talk about in a minute, it limits the amount of CO2 you expire allowing oxygen to unbind from your blood and go to your cells, it filters dust and pollution and it also allows for the release of a chemical called nitric oxide which dilates blood vessels and reduces the effort on your heart. Better breathing starts with nose breathing.
What sent me into spins last week though is how to properly use the diaphragm, not just as a respiratory muscle but as a stabilizing muscle also. You can see this going wrong in people with chronic neck tension, anxiety, lower back pain, hip problems and much more. As with a lot of things, there are many ways to teach diaphragmatic breathing and as such these interpretations have led to different levels of effectiveness. From a Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) point of view, a proper diaphragmatic breath allows the diaphragm to descend from the thoracic cavity losing its dome like shape as it flattens, creating a cylinder of pressure from ribs to hips, effectively stabilizing your lower back and putting the rest of your joints into proper alignment to better disperse forces. This type of breathing is not only important for athletes and anyone else who lives an active lifestyle, but the pressure change and movement that it provides is essential for all of your organs and the surrounding tissues and it also pushes your nervous system towards a more parasympathetic state. If you are someone who lives a life filled with stressors, this is big.
What I learnt last week is that the position of your ribcage and its relationship to your pelvic floor can either inhibit or improve your ability to breathe deeply in this way. You want the two to be in alignment and when you get this alignment, you can feel the breath and the pressure going much lower. This pressure change, that we refer to as Intra-Abdominal Pressure (IAP), sets the resting tone for the surrounding muscles and if you saw my last Instagram post, you can see that when lying on my belly, attempting to relax my back muscles (which I didn’t even know were on) it’s quite difficult to get that low breath and as such to allow my back muscles to relax. You don’t want your muscles to be constantly firing, especially when you’re at rest, but if you are unable to create IAP, the nervous system will not feel safe and it will recruit these larger muscles to do the job of stabilizing your torso. This goes for the 6 packs out there too. If you are like me and can always see some tone in your abs, even when resting, it might look good to some but in the long run it can lead to breakdown and inefficiencies in your body.
So two weeks after taking this DNS course, which used the surfing athlete as its focus, I have found myself sleeping better, moving better and pooping better. I’m learning more about my clients and continuing to learn more about my practice in the process. My muscle tone is starting to calm down, but I’m not there yet and slowly I’m getting more confident in talking about what I’m learning.
The moral of this story is that if you want to upgrade your health, are feeling uninspired with your current routine or just want to perform better in general, perhaps taking 5-10 minutes a day to do nothing other than pay attention to your breath might be a good place to start. A lot of people want to breathe better for their sport but unless you’ve got it down at rest, it’s going to be an uphill battle trying to do it when you perform. Start simple, be consistent and let me know how you go.