Breathing – Are we doing it right?

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Seems a pretty easy question doesn’t it. Of course, we are, we’ve made it this long and been breathing all our lives! But I’d like to get you to try something a second. Take a deep breath in.

Your shoulders lifted, didn’t they? This is quite a common dysfunction I see in appointments and is what we describe as ‘upper chest breathing’. Believe it or not, this is a common predecessor to neck and shoulder pain. ¹

This is because these individuals are using their ‘secondary respiratory muscles’ for their every day (‘resting’) breathing. These muscles then become overactive and exacerbate muscle imbalances and can distort your posture which can cause shoulder pain, neck pain and even headaches and dizziness. ²

So what can be done about it? Well, I’m going to give you an easy exercise you can do even as you’re reading this little blog. Make sure you are sitting or standing comfortably, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Now put one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.

The first thing to do is to empty your lungs completely, so you can breathe into the utmost. Now take a deep breath through your nose and count to four. Focus on pushing your stomach out and keeping your shoulders relaxed and loose. Hold that breath for 2 seconds then breathe out through your mouth for another 4 seconds, making sure you let your lungs empty completely and hold that for 2 seconds.

Take 2 more breaths like this, making sure those shoulders are loose and relaxed and your stomach is going out as you breathe in. It can be a bit tricky to start with as these habits of breathing are often deeply ingrained and so well practised that trying to change them can take a while. But like with any exercise, the key is frequent practice. I’d usually tell my patients to try and do this exercise at least twice a day, every day.

¹ Chaitow, L. (2005). Cranial manipulation: theory and practice: osseous and soft tissue approaches. Elsevier Health Sciences.

² Page, P. (2011). Cervicogenic headaches: an evidence-led approach to clinical management. International journal of sports physical therapy, 6(3), 254

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