• Lisa Shaw PT, DPT, PHC

Breathing is Magic

What is one simple, almost magical thing that you can do to help heal your body and mind? Okay, the title gave it away. Breathing well! We spend a lot of time at Catalyst Physical Therapy talking to our patients about breathing. Let’s talk about why the simple act of breathing can be a really powerful tool in your wellness journey.


Did you know that how you breathe affects all of these things?

· Posture

· Strength

· Wellness

· Stress level

· Bowel function

· Pelvic floor muscles

· Speech

There is no need to worry! We all breathe, all day, every day! However, the habits and patterns that develop over the course of our lives can impact our breathing strategies. Small changes can make a big difference!


Have you ever paid attention to how you breathe?

The way we breathe is fascinating. It can be conscious or unconscious, which makes it unique. We don’t have to think about it, and we will continue breathing. We can choose to think about it and change our breathing strategy, or how fast we are breathing. The three main types of breathing are chest breathing, belly breathing and diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is also known as umbrella breathing because the lower rib movement up and out in addition to abdominal movement resembles opening and closing an umbrella. Where is the diaphragm? It is easy to see your stomach rise when you take a diaphragmatic breath, but it is hard to imagine where the diaphragm is unless you have studied anatomy. It is actually a huge muscle that divides the upper and lower body, sitting in the middle of the trunk, attaching to the lower ribs.


Image used by permission of Pelvic Guru, LLC.

There is a tremendous amount of research that has been done on the relationship between breath, postural control, and movement. There are differences in how we each breathe, and there is a huge variability in what is considered normal. The way we breathe is highly influenced by our experience and our anatomy. For example, a gymnast or dancer is not going to show a lot of abdominal movement and will be mostly a chest breather, whereas a vocalist is going to use a lot of diaphragm support. It is actually best to be able to use a combination of your abdomen, diaphragm and your chest well. What if you were a dancer 20 years ago? Yes, you are probably still a chest breather. Should you learn to use your diaphragm more? Probably! There are some ideals for all of us, which will be mentioned later in this post.


What are some problems you might have if you are not using good strategies to breathe?

· Headaches

· Neck pain

· Shoulder pain

· Back pain

· Pelvic floor dysfunction

· Constipation

· Reflux

· And more…


Bad breath…

Okay, no breathing is bad. But the way we breathe can help or hinder our function. For a quick example of this, try standing up in front of a chair, then sigh and let all of your air out as you sit down. Now stand up again, take a nice deep breath in, and exhale slowly as you sit down. Which time was easier? Are you starting to see how breath support for movement is everything?

Studies show that patients with low back pain do not use their diaphragm well. Other studies demonstrate that patients who do diaphragm training improve their low back pain. There is also a lot of research that shows that diaphragm training should be included in rehab of the pelvic floor, and vice versa.


We will discuss how the pelvic floor, low back and abdominals work with the diaphragm in our next post. Until then, keep breathing!


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