Most of us never think about how we are breathing. After all it just happens without thinking. On average, you breathe 23,000 times a day,which adds up to a lot of air in fact it adds up to 2,000 gallons or 35 pounds a day. During normal breathing air travels at about 50 miles per hour, but during a sneeze or cough it can reach speeds of 750 miles per hour. If you could spread out your lungs completely flat, they would be equal to the size (surface area) of a tennis court. That large area allows adequate oxygen exchange with the blood; smoking and/or breathing polluted air reduces the lungs’ effective surface size.
People do forget how to breathe correctly. That may sound like a strange statement but it’s true. Watch an infant breathe, and you’ll see what I mean. They do it correctly with no practicing required. Then watch your friends or family, especially someone who is chronically stressed. You will see a significant difference. The stressed individual will have their neck back and chest muscles tense since they are using them to move their rib cage up and down in the most inefficient breathing manner. Take this test to see if you are breathing correctly.
1. Place one hand on your abdomen/stomach area.
2. Place another on your chest.
3. Now breathe normally and deeply if you wish.
4. Which hand moved first or the most?
5. If it is the hand on your chest, you flunk.
The diaphragm (a muscle that separates the chest and abdomen) expands downward creating a vacuum to pull air into the lungs, and while this happens, the abdomen is pushed outward. Upon deep exertional breathing this process is followed by the expansion of the chest area as well. It stands to reason that anything that inhibits this natural motion of the diaphragm will result in poor breathing and less oxygen to your tissues. Often problems that inhibit correct diaphragmatic motion are structural. Meaning drugs are useless in this case. Nerve supply to the diaphragm comes from the neck, and a major attachment point of the diaphragm is the middle/lower back. If either of these areas of the spine are not functioning correctly, loss of proper breathing may be a result. Other more sever cause include extremely abnormal curvatures of the spine, often the result of disease or posture over a lifetime.
The diaphragm is often related to heartburn or G.E.R.D. (gastric esophageal reflex disease), so check your breathing patterns if you suffer from this all too common disorder.
If you flunked the test above you owe it to yourself to practice breathing and see a chiropractor who can correct your spine. Some find great benefit from practicing yoga or forms of martial arts, since they emphasize the importance of proper breathing. Massage to loosen the chronically tight neck muscles is a nice start too.
One of the top reasons for fatigue and depression is a relative lack of air to the brain or other tissues. Yet the lungs can be perfectly normal. Those who suffer from asthma or other chronic lung conditions have to work harder to get enough air.
Every breath you take can make a difference on your physical and emotional wellbeing.
1. Begin by lying flat on your back or standing up straight. You may also sit up straight in a chair, if that is more comfortable.
2. Place your hand on your stomach area.
3. Breathe as you normally would and notice whether your hand rises or your chest rises.
4. To breathe properly, your stomach area must rise as your diaphragm expands.
5. To learn to breathe correctly, begin by slowly breathing in through your nose on the count of 5 while gently pushing your hand up with your stomach.
6. Hold the breath for a count of 5.
7. Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of five while gently pushing down on your stomach.
8. Repeat this process for 5 minutes.
9. If the process causes you to begin panicking, only do it for as long as you are able.
10. Increase the length of time each day until you can do the exercise for at least 5 minutes twice per day.
11. If you continue to practice breathing this way, you will soon be doing it naturally throughout the day.
12. An additional benefit will be that once you are familiar with the exercise, you can do it while experiencing anxiety or the beginning of a stress response, and you will feel relief.
Randy Schaetzke, D.C., D.I.B.A.K.