Breathing is one of the most important things your body does. It is the only major vital function that is open to conscious awareness and modification. The most efficient way to breathe is diaphragmatic breathing. The diaphragm is at the bottom of the rib cage and when it contracts it will pull air into the lungs. Luckily or unluckily for us we have multiple muscles that can assist our breathing even though the diaphragm is the most important one.
Many times people get into a bad habit of using an upper chest breathing pattern which uses the scaleni muscles which are on the side of the neck. This breathing pattern when used all of the time will increase stress to the neck and can contribute to neck pain, shoulder pain or pain radiating down the arms. Generally people using this pattern will also have poor posture which can increase the neck and shoulder pain.
There are many other bad things that occur from this pattern. It will increase your rate of breathing and will increase the carbon dioxide in the blood and decrease the amount of oxygen released by the blood. This will cause the smooth muscles in your blood vessels and bowels to constrict and contribute to high blood pressure or irritable bowel syndrome. It will also contribute to trigger points in the muscles and cause you to be more sensitive to pain. Another problem it can contribute to is loss of bone density due to the body using calcium from the bones to help control the pH of the blood.
Diaphragmatic breathing should start in the belly, then move up to expand the rib cage and finally if you are taking a deep breath will move up into the chest. To check if you are breathing properly, put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest just below your neck. Take a breath, your hand on your stomach should move and minimal to no movement in the hand on your chest.
Breathing, although it is under our control, is difficult to change our habitual breathing pattern.
The exercise to change your breathing pattern is very easy but needs to be done 2x per day for 30 reps for a couple of months to make diaphragmatic breathing your new normal pattern. This exercise is called pursed lip breathing. This is where you breathe in through your nose and then breathe out with your lips pursed (like trying to blow into a trumpet or make a candle flicker but not go out). The emphasis is on breathing out which will trigger your diaphragm to contract. Some people can become dizzy doing this exercise due to the increased in oxygen in diaphragmatic breathing that your body is not used to.
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