Updated: Jan 24
I had just turned 24 and I remember a Pilates instructor teaching me how to breathe properly! How had I reversed my breathing mechanics unknowingly?
As a young man there I was, tongue sticking out, having to really concentrate to retrain my brain and muscles so I could learn how to breathe properly again. Did you know that around your adolescent years, you have typically reversed how you were born to breathe?
If you watch any baby or young child breathe whilst at rest, you will notice there abdomen rising and falling, with almost no movement to their shoulders and chest.
In my experience, I believe that we start to switch our breathing mechanics during puberty, at a time when we become more body conscious. It becomes almost preferable that we keep our abdomen drawn inward and flat in appearance for aesthetic purposes, rather than allowing our abdomen to expand and contract naturally. As a result of inhibiting the body's natural breathing mechanics, our body adapts and we begin to breathe more extensively through our accessory muscles of respiration, which over time can contribute to tight and overworked muscles, forward head posture and weaker core and back muscles.
Accessory Muscles of Respiration
At rest, our diaphragm and transversus abdominus muscles should be the primary team which control our inhalation and exhalation. This would equate to a high percentage of our day and certainly whilst we sleep. Indeed, the only time our accessory muscles of respiration - which include the scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, pectoralis major, trapezius and external intercostals - should be more active in helping us with inhalation and exhalation, is during any activity that demands more oxygen such as when we exercise.
Some Simple Math
Consider that the average human breathes 16 times per minute. If we multiply this over a 16-hour period (the average time that we are awake each day), we would have taken 15,360 breathes in that time frame. Now imagine each day you perform 15,360 bicep curls and no tricep work to counteract this indifference. You would be accumulating a SIGNIFICANT postural debt, which would cause the bicep muscles to shorten and tighten (become hypertonic) and the tricep muscles to lengthen and weaken (become hypotonic), prematurely wearing down the shoulder and elbow joints and causing other biomechanical imbalances over time. It's the same type of equation to consider for our breathing muscles (and every other group in our body for that matter).
This is why your postural choices can lead to symptoms and pain, which are your body's only line of communication, to alert you of the need to restore balance.
Without performing any daily corrective exercises, and strictly focusing on BREATHING CORRECTLY, you can significantly impact this balance in your body. This will help you: - Align your head properly upon your shoulders - Strengthen your core and back muscles - Naturally flatten your abdomen - Boost your digestive system... and more! All of these incredible benefits from breathing correctly.
Now the 15,360 repetitions each day will be serving your body and paying down your postural debt.
The Dummies Guide to Breathing Correctly
Watch yourself in a mirror. Place one hand on your abdomen. As you breathe in, allow your abdomen to expand and minimize the movement of your shoulders. As you breathe out, draw your belly button inward toward your spine to help exhale the air in your lungs. Repeat over and over again, until you conquer this new programming.
In a little more detail here is what is happening.
As you breathe in, your diaphragm would be traveling downward, therefore your
abdomen should expand to accommodate the diaphragm and therefore the viscera (organs) can travel outward away from the spine. This is the relaxation phase of the transversus abdominus muscle.
In reverse, when you exhale and draw the belly button inward, the transversus abdominus begins it's contraction, drawing the viscera inward toward the spine and aiding the relaxation of the diaphragm as it travels upward. As this all happens, the abdomen flattens and naturally there is cycle of massaging of the viscera which aids in digestion and elimination. Thus, optimal breathing, digestion and pooping all in one breathe!
Anatomy of the Scalenes
Today's article I'm focusing on the scalene muscle group. These small muscles are found on either side of the neck and are commonly short and tight due to breathing mechanics and adopting a forward head posture whilst working on electronic devices and driving. The anterior scalenes can be triggers of nerve pain, numbness and tingling down the arm, as it crosses the brachial plexus - a large network of nerves - that merge at this point.
FACT: Everyone benefits from stretching the scalenes and I've yet to meet a patient who has excessively stretched these muscles.
To stretch this muscle please follow my video instructions below. As you learn to perform this stretch, start slowly and hold for a brief period of time (5-10 seconds). Progressively, increase this stretch time (15-30 seconds) and frequency (3 times per day) to maximize your results.
To stretch the three parts of the scalene muscle group, you can rotate the head left or right to shift the emphasis of the stretch. For example, bend your head to the right, lift the chin upward (maintaining the initial side bend), then rotate slightly left to stretch the anterior scalene. Repeat by bending your head to the right and instead of rotating slightly left, rotate right to stretch the middle and posterior scalene.
Any questions, you can reach me at my clinic by phone: 403 589 4645 or email: email@example.com
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Yours In Muscle Health,
Jason Barlow, RMT
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