Angela: Most of us lead very busy lives juggling family life, work, fitting in exercise, making time to cook awesome health food etc, and the reality is that it can sometimes get on top of us (sound familiar?). But all this can be resolved in just 5-10 minutes a day.
So this week we have a very interesting & extremely helpful post by Rachel Vickery. She is a physiotherapist, crossfit athlete and also does a awesome handstand!
Guess what, it all comes down to the breath. Breathing is something that we don’t give much thought to and its something we do constantly (between 12-20 x a minute). So the secret is, if you feel stressed daily, limited in your exercise, suffer from asthma, have neck, back, shoulder pain that doesn’t respond to stretching, then listen up as this is a must read, because, sometimes you just need to sit and breathe (correctly). Over to Rachel…
Rachel: Do this quick test: without changing how you naturally breathe sit with one hand on your upper chest, and the other hand on your upper abdomen, just below where your ribcage meets in the middle. Close your eyes and feel your breathing. What moves under your hands? How fast are you breathing? What is the rhythm like? Do you prefer to breathe with your mouth open or via your nose? Is your breathing noisy? Does your upper chest move? Then go and watch yourself in the mirror – what you see is often different from what you feel. If your shoulders rise and fall with each breath, you breathe through your mouth more comfortably than your nose, or your breathing feels jerky, shallow, fast or irregular then you would benefit from learning to breathe better!!!
What is Breathing Correction?
For many people breathing is just something that they do, with little thought as to “how” they do it. Some people think about breathing when they learn breathing techniques for yoga, singing, sport or for health reasons, but they don’t usually apply those techniques to their subconscious 24/7 breathing pattern. Injury, illness, stress, sport and / or busy lifestyles cause many people to breathe shallow, fast, sometimes through their mouth, but generally in a way that is less than optimal – often leading to pain, injury, breathing issues and poor sport performance. Breathing correction retrains a person’s subconscious or automatic breathing pattern to be slow, smooth and calm, using the diaphragm so that it is optimal for them, without them even thinking about it.
What type of improvement have you seen in your clients?
I have seen athletes about to walk away from their sport (including professional playing contracts) because of years of unexplained breathing problems return to completely symptom-free sport. I have had people in speaking professions, who have been close to finding a new career because of voice and breathing problems, completely turn things around. I have had people plagued with stress and anxiety to the point that it is destroying their life find a sense of control and health that they thought was beyond them. The most common things athletes notice is they no longer have difficulty breathing when they do sport (apart from the normal breathlessness!), they recover faster, stay more relaxed and calm during competition and intense training, can maintain more intense exercise for longer periods of time and don’t have as many shoulder injuries. Away from exercise people notice they no longer have breathing problems, they are less “reactive” to the things around them and instead feel calmer and more focused, get rid of coughs they’ve had for years, and no longer spend a fortune with the massage therapist for neck and shoulder tightness!
When everything seems too much, what simple exercise could I do?
Stop. Drop. Flop. This exercise will calm, focus and relax you… and with practice you can learn to do it in just a few breaths.
STOP whatever you are thinking about and become aware of your surroundings and your body. DROP your shoulders, which will probably be hunched up to your ears, as you breathe out gently through your mouth through slightly pursed lips. Feel the air release from your upper chest and your lungs deflate. You can keep your hands on the steering wheel, or computer or whatever it is that they were doing but think of the distance from your ears to your shoulders increasing. FLOP – take three breaths in and out of your NOSE feeling your upper belly move out as you breathe in, and feel it move in as you breathe out. You don’t have to breathe in or out for a set count, but just make sure your breath out is longer than your breath in (reverse of what most people do!) and then take a gentle pause after you breathe out, before you breathe in again. Your shoulders and upper chest need to stay really still. And then continue on with what you were doing.
When you first start it’s hard to feel like your belly is moving without your upper chest, but you’ll get better with practice. If it makes you feel dizzy or like you aren’t getting enough air it’s a good indicator you’re your normal breathing is really shallow! Ideally you’ll then use this same technique if you find yourself in a heated conversation, stuck in traffic when you are running late for something, before a competition, when your day just feels a little too overwhelming or any other time that you want a micro pause of calm during your day!
What to look for if you have poor breathing…
Most people don’t realize they aren’t breathing properly and it is possible for your breathing to be negatively affecting your health without having “breathing symptoms”. What usually happens is that someone experiences a period of high stress or anxiety, or has an injury or illness that makes them breathe shallow, fast and sometimes through their mouth and initially their body compensates for it. If they continue to breathe this way for a period of time, their body and brain comes to accept this incorrect way of breathing as “normal”. Over time this poor breathing pattern starts to create problems. Even though the “event” that caused their breathing to go haywire in the first instance might be a long time ago, it can cause all sorts of symptoms for years into the future. The most common things people experience are:
- Unusual shortness of breath (assuming no other heart or lung problems)
- Feelings of breathlessness
- Difficulty getting enough air IN to the chest during exercise
- Chest tightness / soreness
- Constant neck and shoulder tightness or pain
- Headaches and jaw problems
- Heart palpitations
- Panic attacks
- Frequent yawning / sighing
- Constant fatigue
- Poor concentration / foggy head feeling
- Unexplained drop in sports performance or unable to find the “top 5%” of exertion
- Repeated shoulder injuries and decreased arm strength during sports like swimming, kayaking, crossfit etc
- Vocal Cord Dysfunction which is commonly misdiagnosed as Exercise Induced Asthma and often exists with poor breathing, causes: Wheeze or “stridor” whilst exercising, especially when breathing in.“Barking” cough that feels like it’s in the throat not the chest. Sore throat after exercise. An irritable “tickle” in the throat. A husky / croaky voice that is intermittent
Angela: I often remove myself from a situation and use breathing techniques to calm me down. It really works wonders. I don’t think I could get through some tough workouts without using my breath to get me through it. What’s your breathing like, do you think it’s optimal?
About Rachel Vickery:
Rachel has been a practicing Physiotherapist for 15 years. She works with patients ranging from normal everyday people to Olympic and World Class Athletes.
You can learn more about Rachel Vickery here:
Learn More: Breathing And Performance