Health Blog

Are you Breathing Correctly?

Have you ever considered how your breathing affects your overall health? Proper breathing from the diaphragm aids in relaxation, decreases pain, lowers anxiety, reduces stress levels, decreases fatigue, improves exercise tolerance, and facilitates proper digestion.

Most people breathe from the chest, especially during times of increased pain and stress. This type of breathing is less efficient as the breathing is shallow and does not allow for maximum expansion of the lungs, thus reducing total oxygen content to the entire body. The neck and chest muscles start to do the work of breathing, which overtime can lead to neck, arm, and hand pain.

To practice proper diaphragmatic breathing, follow these simple steps: Lie on your back with a pillow underneath your knees or sit comfortably in a chair. Place both hands on your stomach, just below your rib cage. Breathe in slowly through your nose, while trying to make your stomach move out against your hands. Imagine that you are breathing into your hands as your stomach expands. As you breathe out, your stomach will naturally fall back down without much effort required.

At first, practice this exercise 5-10 minutes about 3-4 times per day. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend doing this exercise, and perhaps even increase the effort of the exercise by placing a book on your abdomen. Also try slowing down the rate of your breathing by doing the following: Inhale to the count of four, hold for a count of two, and exhale to the count of four. Also be aware of your breathing throughout the day, focusing on using your diaphragm versus neck and chest muscles.

Sometimes restrictions in the ribcage and spine can contribute to difficulty breathing from the diaphragm. This is where physical therapy can help to restore normal motion, thus making it easier to perform diaphragmatic breathing.