Belly Breathing for Better Health
Are You Breathing Correctly?
The Importance of Abdominal Breathing for Better Health
Did you know there is a correct and an incorrect way to breathe? You do it every day for your entire life. This automatic bodily action occurs without thought, and yet how often do you take time to stop and notice your breathing? With the emergence of studies on meditation, the act of breathing has become a front-and-center topic in the medical community. Let’s take a look at what and how proper breathing is and its benefits. We’ll also discuss how to recognize if you aren’t breathing correctly, and ways to fix it.
Are You Breathing Correctly?
Although not diagnostic, a quick screening test you can do at home is:
Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
Don’t think; just breath as you normally would.
Take note of your stomach.
If your belly isn’t expanding with each breath, then its a sign that you probably aren’t breathing properly.
Symptoms of Dysfunctional Breathing
Improper breathing will show itself in a variety of ways. If you are experiencing any of the following, it may be a sign of dysfunctional breathing, and we recommend following up with your doctor or chiropractor.
Over Breathing (Hyperventilation):
Do you find yourself taking rapid chest breaths, especially during times of stress? Breathing too deep and too fast can lead to the body removing more carbon dioxide than it can produce. This increases your blood pH levels leading to a condition known as respiratory alkalosis.
Common symptoms include:
Improper breathing can lead to air being trapped inside of your lungs causing them to overinflate.
• Difficulty in breathing
• Shortness of breath
• Excessive coughing
• A distinctive whistling sound when you cough
Pain and Instability in the Body:
Dysfunctions in the way you breathe can affect more than your lungs. The improper breathing technique you use along with the imbalance in oxygen and carbon dioxide levels can lead to the following:
• Poor motor control (feeling out of control of your body)
• Improper spinal support
• Reduced body stabilization (loss of balance)
• Muscle imbalance (length-tension relationships)
• Pain in the neck, back, and pelvic region
The way a person breathes can consciously and unconsciously affect the function of the brain and nervous system and mental and emotional states. You might find yourself more emotional and stressed during certain events. Dysfunctional breathing has also been shown to exacerbate the following emotions:
Benefits of Abdominal Breathing or Belly Breathing
Proper Posture: By breathing properly, you will naturally take a proper posture. In order to breathe from the stomach, your chest needs to be up, your shoulders back, and your gaze neutral. In other words, you’ll assume a natural and healthy posture simply by changing your breathing.
Core Strength: Proper breathing has been shown to improve core strength and stability by strengthening the diaphragm muscles.
Pelvic Floor Muscles: When you breathe properly, you can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which can have beneficial effects on your bladder and urinary tract health. Combining proper breathing exercises with pelvic floor strengthening exercises will help to dramatically improve both.
Better Blood Oxygen Levels: Proper breathing doesn’t mean taking in giant gulps of air; rather, it’s about learning and mastering the action of natural rhythmic breathing. When you breathe in a healthy and normal way, you can ensure your blood oxygen levels stay within an ideal range.
Endurance and Fatigue: Breathing properly is enough to support your athletic endurance and ward off fatigue. However, when practicing breathing exercises such as yogic breathing, studies show this can significantly improve your endurance far outside the norm.
Lower Your Blood Pressure: Research shows that by practicing deep, conscious breathing, you can lower your blood pressure. This may come in handy during stressful situations such as rush hour traffic or getting stuck in line at the market.
Mental and Emotional Health: Studies show that proper breathing can reduce stress and anxiety while lowering levels of the catabolic stress hormone, cortisol.
Speech and Vocalization: Proper breathing is a necessity when it comes to pronunciation and vocalization. It’s no coincidence that singers and public speakers perform a variety of breathing exercises before an event.
Ways to Start Breathing Right
Outside of consulting with your chiropractor or doctor to get the treatment you need, there are things that you can do at home to help improve your breathing starting right now.
Be Aware of Your Posture: As mentioned above, proper breathing means proper posture. If you try to breathe deeply with a slumped-forward posture, it will be difficult to fill your lungs because your abdomen is compressed. This creates a chain-reaction as pressure builds on your pelvic floor and your body can’t counter the pressure.
Be Aware Of Where Your Breath Is: If you recognize that you aren’t belly breathing then you can spend a few minutes consciously doing so. Everyone has to start somewhere and even spending a few minutes a day focusing on improving your breathing pattern with belly breaths can make a difference.
Remember: Keep your chest up, your shoulders back, look straight ahead, and breathe from the belly.
Try These Specialized Breathing Exercises
If you are interested in breathing techniques, there are several specialized techniques that you can learn.
Mindful or Engaged Breathing: The most basic of the breathing exercises, mindful breathing requires you to focus on your breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. Count “one” as you breathe in and count “two” as you breathe out. You can close your eyes as you do this or focus your gaze on an object.
Deep Breathing for Anxiety: Sitting in a comfortable chair or on a cushion, focus on taking a long deep breath in through your nose with a closed mouth. Concentrate on filling the belly first, then the mid-section, then the chest. Exhale slowly from your mouth starting with the chest to the belly. With deep breathing for anxiety, you are controlling the breath, unlike mindful breathing where you are breathing naturally and simply focusing on it.
Pranayama: When you’ve become comfortable with mindful and anxiety-based breathing, you can move on to Pranayama. This is an umbrella term for several types of breathing practices. Some involve sitting down crossed-legged on a comfortable cushion while others require lying down. You may focus on breathing in different areas of the body, or you may perform single nostril breathing. You can work through each to see which is best for you.
Are You Breathing Properly?
Not sure if you are breathing in a healthy way? We perform specialized breathing diagnostics and screening to evaluate dysfunctional breathing patterns. We also offer individualized plans and exercises to improve any dysfunction found while examining you to make sure it is working and you can breathe normally with belly breathing.
Give us a call today at 773.878.7330 to learn more about breathing dysfunctions and to schedule, your examination with our expert SMFA certified Chiropractic Physician.
References and Suggested Reading
Boulding, Richard, et al. “Dysfunctional breathing: a review of the literature and proposal for classification.” Dysfunctional breathing: a review of the literature and proposal for classification, European Respiratory Society, 2016, err.ersjournals.com/content/25/141/287. Accessed 3 July 2018.
Ferguson, Gary T. “Why Does the Lung Hyperinflate?.” Why Does the Lung Hyperinflate?, American Thoracic Society, 16 Oct. 2005, www.atsjournals.org/doi/full/10.1513/pats.200508-094DO. Accessed 3 July 2018.
Hakked, Chirag S., et al. “Yogic breathing practices improve lung functions of competitive young swimmers.” Yogic breathing practices improve lung functions of competitive young swimmers, ScienceDirect, 2016, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0975947616300675. Accessed 3 July 2018.
Lee, Hae-Yong, Song-Hee Cheon, and Min-Sik Yong. “Effect of Diaphragm Breathing Exercise Applied on the Basis of Overload Principle.” Journal of Physical Therapy Science 29.6 (2017): 1054–1056. PMC. Web. 3 July 2018.
Ma, Xiao et al. “The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults.” Frontiers in Psychology 8 (2017): 874. PMC. Web. 3 July 2018.
Mori, H, et al. “How does deep breathing affect office blood pressure and pulse rate?.” How does deep breathing affect office blood pressure and pulse rate?, National Center for Biotechnology Information, June 2005. PubMed.gov, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16231755. Accessed 3 July 2018.
Vesna, Zivkovic, et al. “Diaphragmatic breathing exercises and pelvic floor retraining in children with dysfunctional voiding.” Diaphragmatic breathing exercises and pelvic floor retraining in children with dysfunctional voiding, June 2012, www.researchgate.net/publication/225272570_Diaphragmatic_breathing_exercises_and_pelvic_floor_retraining_in_children_with_dysfunctional_voiding. Accessed 3 July 2018.
Wilhelm, F H., et al. “Respiratory dysregulation in anxiety, functional cardiac, and pain disorders. Assessment, phenomenology, and treatment.” Respiratory dysregulation in anxiety, functional cardiac, and pain disorders. Assessment, phenomenology, and treatment, National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubMed.gov, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11530714. Accessed 3 July 2018.
Dr. DeFabio D.C. is a highly regarded chiropractor in Chicago who focuses on helping his patients achieve optimal health and wellness. He takes a holistic approach to care, treating symptoms and addressing underlying issues to promote long-term healing. Dr. DeFabio D.C. is passionate about empowering his patients to take control of their health and live their best lives. You can find him surfing, skateboarding, and volunteering at the Lakeview Food Pantry when he’s not in the office.