When we breathe, we know we are alive. You take about 1,000 breaths an hour, which equates to almost 8,760,000 a year. Should you live to 100, that is almost 900 billion breaths! But are they full, nourishing breaths, or shallow ones at the top of your chest!?
Breathing better has a positive influence on numerous aspects of our lives. It can give us better digestion, improved circulation, stronger immune function, enhanced cardiovascular health, more energy and can calm our minds. It’s an automatic process that we take for granted … until perhaps we have a blocked nose. But did you realise that your posture will also impact on how you breathe?
Often people breathe in the upper chest, with the tummy and ribs not moving at all. To clarify, you do not breathe into your tummy. You breathe into your lungs, which are protected by your ribs at the top and sides, and encased by your diaphragm muscle at the bottom. As you inhale, this dome-shape muscle contracts and flattens, pushing the liver and other organs down into your abdomen; this is why the tummy swells. So please STOP holding in your tummy, as you are impeding your breathing.
For the diaphragm to be able to contract fully, you need to be in neutral alignment maintaining a good posture. Let’s try it:
- Sit on the edge of a dining chair, feet flat on the floor, knees hip-width apart, spine vertical, shoulders relaxed and head drawn back. You need to sit directly on your sit bones, so gently rock/tilt your pelvis forward and backward rolling over the bones (found under your bottom!). Your lower back will arch and then flatten. The point between these two ranges of movement should be your neutral pelvis and you will feel like you are perched ‘on’ your sit bones.
- Take a long inhale though your nose, and feel where the air moves your body.
- Exhale through your mouth and relax.
- Now slouch forward and breathe. You might observe that your ribs only move at the back.
- Then lift your chest up towards the ceiling and breathe. Now you might feel only movement in your upper chest.
- Return to neutral posture and put a hand on each side at the bottom of your ribs. Take a few breaths ‘into your hands’ and feel how much movement there is laterally in your ribs.
- Move your hands onto your tummy and take some more breaths. By touching these areas we give the brain a direction towards which to target muscle movement.
I hope you notice that by being in neutral alignment you can expand your ribs 360 degrees without the restrictions brought by poor posture or holding the tummy in. Practise this each time you sit down, and especially if you are feeling anxious or stressed.
Article by Paulette Pollock
Photo by Tim Goedhart