What if you could fix your back pain, knee irritation, neck spasms, to name a few…and increase your athletic outputs by taking a couple proper breathes and locking in that pattern?
What is Breathing?
Breathing is the most underappreciated of all human movements. Since breathing is a human movement pattern, it can be mechanically altered by a combination of factors. Breathing plays an important role in its influence on movement quality, stability, and posture. If breathing is “normal” or “functional”, posture and stabilization will be maintained in a healthy manner. Conversely, if breathing is “abnormal” or “dysfunctional”, it not only affects posture and stabilization, but can also create countless other health issues. On average, we breath 20,000-24,000 times a day. Any problems we have in breathing are therefore multiplied 20,000-24,000 times a day.
Breathing affects every system of our bodies to include, but not limited to, our cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal systems. Many individuals have misconceptions about breathing and consider it solely as an action of inhalation and exhalation. What is less understood is breathing’s role in posture and movement. The exchange of respiratory gases into and out of the lungs has many implications. The human body has three cavities that are designed to aid in the movement of air and support the upright posture of our human structure based on the pressure differences between them. These cavities include the cranium, thorax, and lumbo-pelvic femoral complex. This dynamic displacement of air defines the active movement that occurs during breathing and muscular activity.
Breathing is the origin of all movement patterns. Because it is one of our most frequent behaviors, any disturbances that create and/or inhibit these pressure gradients to occur between the head, thorax, and/or pelvic complex will lessen its efficiency and places a strain on the body’s ability to adapt. The manner in which individuals breathe affects their appearance and function of these cavities, and predicts the level of discomfort an individual may experience throughout their lifetime from both a physical and psychological standpoint.
Optimal breathing includes moving air in and out of the thorax in a way that maintains optimal diaphragm position and optimal rib cage position for controlled tri-planar movement. The biggest challenges in positioning the diaphragm and the rib cage are:
- To get the diaphragm into a properly domed position
- To get the rib cage on both sides into full internal rotation
Both of these challenges are overcome if the person can get into a full state of exhalation when they breathe out.
Maximizing the removal of previously un-exhaled air allows the anterior rib cage to come all the way down, all the way in, and translate back so the diaphragm can take on a fully domed shape and the rib cage can get into full internal rotation. This is called maximizing a Zone of Apposition
Using this corrected diaphragm and rib cage posture for proper diaphragmatic breathing involves maintaining the newly attained Zone of Apposition as they transition from exhalation to inhalation.
A proper Zone of Apposition includes fully translating the diaphragm muscle back (posteriorly) so it lines up properly with a neutral lumbar spine and the pelvic outlet. This retro diaphragm position must be maintained so the diaphragm and the rib cage do not come forward when air starts to come into the chest wall. Support from the hamstrings and the internal abdominal obliques helps to maintain this posteriorly positioned diaphragm and rib cage position so synchronized abdominal and chest wall expansion can occur during inhalation.
If this pattern of inhalation maintains enough posterior diaphragm translation (via hamstrings and internal abdominal obliques) to support lumbar spine and pelvic outlet posture, then it could be referred to as properly coordinated diaphragmatic breathing.
The most common form of breathing disorder is hyperventilation. Hyperventilation results from increased respiratory demands due to mechanical or emotional stress, or merely habit, and leads to respiratory alkalosis and an increase in the body’s PH. This, in turn, results in a host of physiological changes, including:
- Loss of dissociation of oxygen from hemoglobin in the blood, known as the Bohr affect. This is a paradox: the more we breathe, the less oxygen is available to our tissues
- Depletion of adrenal steroids, testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone
- Changes in brain wave patterns
- Increases in neural excitability, increased sympathetic drive, leading to:
- Reduced cerebral blood flow
- Altered intracellular pH and metabolism
- Vasoconstriction and bronchoconstriction
- Increased capillary pressure reduces blood supply to local tissues
- Local tissue in hypoxia, which triggers release of neuropeptides and pro-inflammatory substances from nociceptive terminals
- Activation of beta-adrenergic receptors at the motor endplate/sarcolemma via release of norepinephrine and leading to release of acetylcholine and on-going depolarization
- Less oxygen available to move calcium through the gradient to unlock actin-myosin cross-bridges, leading to muscle stiffness
- A switch in energy production from aerobic/oxidative phosphorylation to anaerobic/glycolysis, which is less efficient and destabilizing to homeostasis.
- Digestive disorders
Breathing acts as an extrinsic influence on all other oscillating physiological systems, improving their efficiency and preventing energy waste on non-productive functions
When breathing synchronizes its oscillating cycles with that of other physiological systems, it allows for the rest and recovery of these systems
Blandin, J & Anderson, J. (2015). PRI integration for fitness and movement. Restoring and altering reciprocal activity. Principles. Breathing (33-37). Lincoln, NE.