Let’s take a moment to breatheAugust 7th
There is no denying that lockdown 6.0 is affecting our spirits here in Victoria. Not only are these consecutive lockdowns mentally taxing, we as practitioners are observing the physical consequences of the stress lockdown is placing on the body.
This blog explains why taking some time away from life stresses to focus on your breath is important to maintain your physical and mental health.
Starting with the fundamentals.
To inhale, the abdominal muscles should relax for the diaphragm to contract downwards and push our organs out of the way. The intercostal muscles should then contract to expand the rib cage and decrease pressure in the lungs to create a vacuum, drawing air into the lungs. To exhale, the diaphragm and intercostals need to relax to allow the abdominals to contract and push air out of the lungs..
To understand the importance of breathing we need to talk about your nervous system. When it comes to your nervous system it can be broken down into two parts. The Sympathetic nervoussystem (fight or flight) and Parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Each play a vital role in the body’s ability to adapt in different environments, but sometimes our sympathetic nervous system forgets to switch off. As a result, you may notice increased tension in your neck, shoulders, and jaw. Additionally, you may notice an increase in your resting heart rate as well as short and shallow breaths. . This is all because your body still thinks it is in a high stress situation.
Start by placing one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. The goal is to see a gentle rise of your belly into your bottom hand without too much movement occurring at your chest. Try this now for 2-3 minutes and see how this makes you feel.
To progress, you can try adding in functional movement exercises while still maintaining this breathing pattern.
The physical response.
You are now using your diaphragm to breathe, instead of your accessory respiratory muscles (the ones commonly causing neck, shoulder and jaw tension). The diaphragm muscle facilitates the efficient functioning of your lungs to bring oxygen into the body. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts and moves downward. This creates more space in your chest cavity, allowing the lungs to expand. When you exhale, the opposite happens – your diaphragm relaxes and moves upward.
When your diaphragm is functioning optimally, you should notice that your breathing and heart rate will be slower. You should also observe less tension around your neck and shoulders. Diaphragmatic breathing encourages your body to rebalance and enter into a state of ‘rest and digest’.
The mental response.
Cortisol is your primary stress hormone that activates with adrenaline when you go into a fight or flight state. Studies have shown that diaphragmatic breathing can improve concentration and have a positive effect on reducing cortisol levels. Evidence also suggests that if cortisol levels remain elevated for a prolonged period, there is an increased risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease, sleep problems and weight gain.
Now I’m not saying if you breath correctly once, everything will be fixed. Learning how to breathe takes time but the best part is you can do it in any situation. Isn’t your health worth taking two minutes to yourself to reset and be a better you?
By Jonathan Turner
Myotherapist | Kinematics Health + Performance