Breathing is life!
July 9, 2022
Written by Fiona Lovett
Have you ever wondered how your breathing habits may be affecting your health? Most of us don’t give our breathing much thought as it is regulated by our autonomic nervous system and therefore there is little for us to do. However, despite this, many of us have poor breathing habits. Over time from things like chronic stress and anxiety, illness, poor posture and reduced fitness, our breathing can become shallow and irregular reducing our oxygen intake. This can lead to a variety of health issues and decreased well-being.
When our breathing is shallow, we tend to breathe from the chest. When we adopt good breathing habits, we engage the diaphragm. If you want to see how to breathe using the diaphragm check out this video or for more information on how diaphragmatic breathing can improve your health and how osteopathic treatment may help read here.
The breath is the substance of life! Most of us don’t give breathing a second thought as it is an involuntary action that is governed by our autonomic nervous system. If we had to think about taking a breath every few seconds, we wouldn’t get much else done!
Despite breathing being involuntary, most of us don’t breathe to our fullest capacity and have developed over time poor breathing mechanics. This may have been due to stress, anxiety, poor posture, physical or emotional trauma or illness.
Many people tend to only use their upper respiratory system to breathe, also known as chest breathing. This limits our intake of oxygen and exchange with carbon dioxide. It essentially means we don’t engage the diaphragm and rely on what is known as our secondary respiratory muscles. These are muscles of the neck. Breathing this way may lead to chronic tension in these muscles resulting in discomfort and in some people cause headaches. People often report that they also notice a tendency to hold their breath at times when they are under pressure and stressed.
When we sacrifice good breathing habits, we create strain in our bodies that can lead to more stress, anxiety, fatigue, brain fog, poor concentration and poor health in general. So, by paying some attention to our breathing and teaching our body how to breathe correctly we can over time improve our health and well-being.
When we breathe well, we take advantage of using our full lung capacity which in turn improves our intake of oxygen and keeps the balance of both oxygen and carbon dioxide, both of which are vital to efficient workings of our bodily functions.
Some of the benefits of diaphragmatic are:
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Better focus and concentration
- Improved digestive function
- Better sleep and rest
- Improved immunity
- Improved respiratory function
- Reduced production of the stress hormone cortisol
- Improved core muscle stability
This is because when we use our diaphragm to breathe, we slow our breathing rate and the parasympathetic nervous system which is part of the autonomic nervous system that aids in keeping us calm. It is our rest and digest state. As the diaphragm is a muscle, engaging it helps to strengthen it which can be helpful for people who have hiatus hernia and reflux issues. Additionally, it gently massages the abdominal organs (viscera) which helps peristalsis, the action that helps move our food along our intestines.
If asked what anatomy is involved in breathing, most people would rightly say the lungs, the diaphragm and perhaps the nose or mouth. However, breathing involves many structures such as the ribcage, the sternum, the spine as well as muscles associated with these structures such as the intercostal muscles between the ribs, the abdominal muscles and muscles in the back. As mentioned before the muscles of the neck, our secondary respiratory muscles are also involved. Apart from headaches and muscle tension and pain, tension in this area may also have an effect on the nerve supply to the lungs as both the vagus nerve (the parasympathetic nervous system) and the phrenic nerve (nerve for the lungs) come from the head and neck.
So how might osteopathic treatment aid your breathing? In addition to being shown good breathing technique, osteopathic treatment may address areas of restriction within the body that may be impacting your breathing function that may have come from poor or stagnant posture, conditions that affect your breathing such as sleep apnoea, allergies, asthma or chronic cough, or simply from stress and anxiety.
Visceral osteopathic techniques can be used to gently release tension of the diaphragm and associated viscera as well as muscles and fascia of the neck, chest and rib cage, while mobilisation can help improve movement in the back, neck and ribs. Techniques that improve jaw function and sinus drainage can also aid breathing.
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