Our breath is much more important and does a lot more than we think. Yes, it will calm us down and help us think more clearly - but have you ever wondered why - and if there's more to it?
To breath deeply, is to be kind to ourselves. It's been a tricky year. We have been forced to slow down, close down, look up, around us - and breath.
If you have ever been in the treatment room with me, you will know I am a stickler for breathing and the breath. It doesn't just helps you. It helps me with my work. It calms and relaxes you because behind every breath - is a physical action you are completely un aware of.
If you have ever watched Titanic, you will remember the engine room and the men working hard to keep the ship sailing. They constantly shovelled coal into the fires. making sure they had oxygen and energy to keep the blaze going. The bigger the blaze the faster the ship went. Our lungs are a bit like that. They are the engine room. The gateway to the ship that keeps us going everyday. We take between 16-20 breaths per minute. Taking in and expelling Nitrogen, Oxygen, C02 and other gasses to keep the fires going. Thats approximately 960 breaths an hour, 23,040 breaths a day, 8,409,600 a year. Give or take exercise and any stress and anxiety we may be dealing with - Thats a lot coal!
It fuels our blood with oxygen and gets rid of old, used up gasses. But, it doesn't just deal with the gasses exchange. There's a whole industry working of the tail coat of the lungs.
An engine room is generally kept away away from the public and enclosed for safety. Usually because it's important and dangerous if anything happens there that shouldn't. Our lungs, along with some of the more delicate organs are also enclosed for protection. It's safe to say that, once you can't - or stop breathing - the rest of the body follows. You shut down. They are really important and so our ribs are there to protect them and act as an anchor for other muscles to insert into. Strong and supple, they also need to move. They rely on those lovely, deep breaths to help them expand and contract. Creating space for the lungs to also expand. While doing that, they are also protecting the organs around them and providing a stable platform for muscles to attach too.
Just like a boat aimlessly bobbing up and down on the sea, our ribs are anchored to help us breath better.
Inhalation can be managed by the diaphragm alone during relaxed breathing, and exhalation takes no muscle contraction at all: the lungs naturally follow the diaphragm and collapse elastically, encouraging the air to exit via the nose.
If the diaphragm muscle is the major muscle of ventilation. Accessory muscles of ventilation system include the scalene, the sternocleidomastoid, the pectoralis major, the trapezius, and the external intercostals. The trachea, pulmonary arteries and other smaller vessels are all made from smooth muscle.
Active Expiration muscles include the abdominal muscles and the internal intercostal are called into action only during exercise and during vigorous and deep breathing. The intercostal's only muscles designed for serious rib-lifting, but they can only do so much.
When we need deep breathing or when the respiratory system is challenged, for example with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, additional accessory muscles are recruited for inspiration. These include the sternocleidomastoid, pectoralis minor and major, serratus anterior, latissimus dorsi, and serratus posterior superior muscles. The quadratus lumborum a low back muscle, pulls down hard on your bottom ribs.
Thats a lot of team players. They all have a specific role. They help maintain and stabilise the position of the rib cage. Which is why we owe them due diligence by breathing properly.
Shallow breathing - dysfunctional breathing - call it what you want will serves you no justice. In a nut shell, if the diaphragm doesn't do it's job correctly, the muscles in the upper chest (pectoralis minor) and throat (sternocleidomastoid and scalenes) will take over, to try help out. The muscles anterior to the ribs become lazy as they're not being used.
As a result, people often end up with neck and shoulder issues. These muscles are not built for supporting a heavy rib cage all day, everyday. They are small and become easily overworked and tired.
As I always say, our body is genius. It will always keep us going. But if there is a weakness it will always show up eventually. Especially if you suddenly decide that you want to look after yourself and get fit. People are often perplexed as to why they are suddenly getting injuries when they eagerly sign up to some of the dozen fitness classes. They come in with the same story - "I've never had any injuries before..." "...now my back hurts" "I have constant headaches and numbness in my hands" Or something to to that record.
In a way, bad breathing is a repetitive injury. You are repeating an action over and over that is putting strain on a small muscle that has no business being so busy.
In part 2, let's look at the ripple effect associated with the diaphragm and why having no pressure puts us under a lot of pressure.