For something that is necessary for everyday life, it can be a real challenge for some people to breathe optimally. Many factors can change the way we breathe; stress, anxiety, pain, posture, pregnancy are a few.
Optimal breathing ensures proper use of the diaphragm and lungs, ensuring the breath fills the whole of the rib cage – back and side and right down into the pelvis. Because of its link to the abdominals, deep back spinal muscles and the pelvic floor these muscles will also be affected. The diaphragm mirrors the pelvic floor and along with the abdominals should lengthen on an inhale. This can take some getting used to and may require a lot of practice! It certainly won’t feel natural to begin with.
There are other reasons why breathing is so important. It can help us to relax and bring a sense of calm to our bodies. All that lovely oxygen coursing through our veins also ensures nutrients get to the right places. The diaphragm itself attaches and links with many other muscles and joints – an important point when thinking about back pain. If the diaphragm doesn’t expand fully, the ribs won’t either and this can lead to stiffness of not only the intercostals but big muscles such as the QL and psoas which are important pelvic stabilisers. If these muscles become stiff then this can cause imbalances which in turn can cause pain.
Taking a few minutes each day to practice mindful breathing can make a big change in our mood and movement patterns.
Try this simple exercise:
Lie on the floor with knees bent, arms out to the side slightly with palms face up. Inhale and think about the breath going into the floor and down towards the feet. The abdominals should relax and the pelvic floor lengthen. As you exhale you should feel the stomach lower. To help gain better feedback you can try wrapping a scarf or resistance band around the ribs. Take it behind you just under the shoulder blades so as it crosses over at the front it sits just under the chest. As you inhale, try and push into the scarf at the back and side, and you should feel tension on the scarf. As you exhale the scarf should become less tight. Thinking about this deep mindful breathing also makes your shoulders feel – hopefully – a little bit less tense!