Breath in, Breath out . . .

Sounds simple right?

Yes and no. Today in this post we are going to talk about the power of your breath and how in my chiropractic treatments I use breathing techniques to help a lot of my patients with various types of problems. When we are talking about breathing we can divide breathing into two categories: diaphragmatic breathing and accessory breathing.

Accessory breathing refers to the use of the accessory ventilation musculature (scalene, the sternocleidomastoid, the pectoralis major, the trapezius, and the external intercostals). This type breathing is designed to be used in physically and emotionally stressful environments

How do I know if I am breathing with my accessory muscles?

When these muscles are used, we will see the chest and shoulders rise. This may be why when we get scared we can get the feeling our heart is jumping out of our chest as we are likely rapidly recruiting these muscles. With the rise in chronic stress in the population more and more people are breathing via stress pathways leading to tension-like symptoms in their upper back, shoulders, neck that can even cause headaches called tension-headaches. 

How can I improve my breathing?

The good news is there are many health disciplines that can coach people with their breathing from chiropractors and physical therapists to kinesiologists and yoga instructors. Today I am going to go through a step-by-step strategy on how to perform diaphragmatic breathing. With the use of diaphragmatic breathing we can see a potential decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, relaxation-related hormonal changes and improvements in core stabilization. 

Lets get started!

Step-by-Step Diaphragmatic Breathing

Beginning Diaphragmatic Breathing

  • Start by lying down on your back in a comfortable position. You may have your head and legs supported if you prefer that fom lying flat on the floor.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other hand over your belly button.
  • Inhale through your nose, draw your breath down to your stomach and you should feel your stomach/abdomen push up into your bottom hand while your chest remains still. 
  • Exhaling via your mouth, feeling your abdomen drop back down to the floor while your chest continues to remain still. 
  • Repeat this sequence for up to 5-10 minutes at a time. You can perform this exercise multiple times a day.

Advanced Diaphragmatic Breathing

If you can have been performing the above breathing exercise, I encourage you try advancing to what I call “360-degree breathing”

"Breathing Into Your Sides"

  • Lying down as you were previously, place your hands now on the lowest rib at your side so your thumbs and pointing towards your back and your remaining fingers are pointing towards your belly button.
  • When inhaling, visualize and feel your abdomen push out into your hands while your chest remains still. 
  • When exhaling, bring your abdomen back to the starting position. 
  • Perform this for at least 10 consecutive repetitions

"Breathing Into Your Back"

  • Lying down as you were previously, place your hands now so they are behind your back between your hip and ribs
  • When inhaling, visualize and feel your abdomen apply pressure on your hands increasing the pressure of your back on the floor. Make sure your chest remains still. 
  • When exhaling, release that pressure and return to the starting position. 
  • Typically this is easier to feel with a longer, deep breath. 

"360-Degree Breathing"

  • You have now felt all the directions your breath can move through diaphragmatic breathing and now it is time to try to breath into all these directions at once, like filling a balloon in your stomach. 
  • If you need feedback it may help to loosely put a belt around the level of your belly button.
  • When inhaling, visualize putting equal pressure on the belt from all directions. Again the chest should remain still throughout.


Practice, Practice, Practice

Like all exercises, breathing takes patience and consistent practice to build up a mind-body connection. The more often you practice on your breath, the more natural it will become and the more often you will find yourself using it in your daily life. I hope this exercise helped you today and if you are looking for help with your road to recovery, book an appointment for an initial assessment and treatment with myself or another member of the Young Health Management team. 

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Alex Hueston

Alex Hueston


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