Practical strategies to improve breathing for better health and pain relief.
Awareness of your Breathing is Key
The last article discussed why it is important to improve your breathing pattern to help with better health and as a means of providing pain relief. I mentioned that in the next article we would examine some of these techniques to get a better idea of how we can implement proper breathing exercises into our everyday life as a basic pain management strategy.
Before all else, be aware.
The one thing I don’t do to start with is sitting you down and teach you how you should breathe, rather I begin by making you aware of how you are breathing at that moment. This is quite a difficult thing to do and I have found that many people become quite anxious about getting it wrong and when this happens if you remember back to the last article, that anxiety can produce a breathing pattern which may actually be reserved for a stressful situation. The process is difficult to get used to but it is worth remembering that you have breathed this way for a while and if you add it all up, you may have years of incorrect breathing practice to undo. This might take a while, so be patient with yourself.
This is where a physio can help, we teach people to be aware of their breathing. First, we do it together in the practice and then you are encouraged to be aware of it in your day-to-day life, like when someone cuts you off in traffic. These are the times when it’s important to stop and listen to your body. Ask “what’s happening to my breathing?” When the kids just won’t get changed to go to school notice again, what happens to your breathing?
Once someone is aware of how they are breathing they can change the pattern they are used to.
Strategies to Improve your Breathing.
To correct the pattern you will need some quiet and peace. It will be more difficult to concentrate if the environment isn’t right.
- Start off slowly sitting, lying or standing. It is worthwhile practising in different positions.
- Notice how you breathe at first.
- Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.
- If you can, breathe through your nose. If you can’t right away, don’t worry it will get easier in time and you will notice an improvement in your results.
- As you breathe in, your belly should bulge and the hand over your chest should move very little. Most people have a complete reversal of this. As they breathe in, the belly is sucked in, causing the upper chest expands.
- When the diaphragm contracts the belly should bulge.
- Don’t try to take bigger breaths than normal. This can encourage upper chest breathing.
- Be aware of each breath. See if you can feel the movement of air through the belly. Can you feel the air go deeper into the lungs? Can you feel the neck relaxing, and the shoulders?
- Try and make your breath out a little longer than the breath in.
- Breathe in from your belly slow and steady for the count of 2 or 3, then pause for 2-3. If it helps, try to visualise a wave breathing in the same rhythm a wave would gently wash onto the shore and then back out again.
- Don’t force the air out. Let it out slowly for about the count of 3 -4 and then repeat. Each breath might be different, just notice how each breathe feels.
- Don’t fight it too much if you struggle. It can be hard. There is not a 100% correct way of doing it, just different variations of good breathing.
Be aware, Correct and Practice.
Now take this into your day-to-day. Start to notice how your emotions influence your breathing. Take that one step further and consider how your breathing influences your emotions. How does it feel when you breathe from the diaphragm? How does your pain feel when you spend some time breathing in a relaxed and nurturing manner from your diaphragm?
Be aware of when your breathing changes. Notice your breath and try to make small improvements often, this little bit of awareness will help you gradually change your old breathing habits in favour of newer ones that help to ease the strain on your chest and body and reduce the severity of pain.
This will have a profound impact on all aspects of your life and is often an integral component of meditation and particularly of mindfulness practices. This is something that I will deal again within my next post.
Written by Ian Harris ( Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist)