In clinic I place a large emphasis on an individuals breathing patterns and how if they are breathing “poorly” how this has a negative effect on that persons system. Notice that I say system, and not physical pain or something equivalent. The negative effects of an individuals breathing patterns are far more reaching than that.
Breathing correctly will help stabilise our lower back making it far less likely that we will suffer a non-traumatic disc injury or back pain. What’s the one thing in common that almost everyone with a lumbar spine disc issue has in common? They are unable to build intra-abdominal pressure properly and so this puts additional physical stress on their back.
But more than this breathing has a big hormonal effect on our system. When we inhale this has an excitatory effect on our system. It revs us up. This stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system is associated with the fight and flight response and lots of society is now physiologically “stuck” on the in breath. This fight and flight response is associated with an increase in adrenaline and cortisol levels which is great when you are trying to run away from a tiger but not so good in day to day life. If this pattern is sustained for a period of time then it can become detrimental to the system as it doesn’t have a chance to chill out. This is why most breathing pattern recommendations are a variety of breathing in for 2 seconds, holding for a second, breathing out for 4 seconds, hold for 1 and repeat. The inhale should be shorter than the exhale and this is because the exhale promotes the rest and relax or parasympathetic nervous system. If we are unable to disengage properly and get into this rest and relax cycle then are far more likely to suffer from getting ill more easily, be constantly tired, brain fog, poor sleep patterns, poor digestion, development of food intolerances, big bags under your eyes etc etc.
Another big problem is chronic over breathing. Simply put a lot of us breathe too much and this is also detrimental to us as it will disrupt the balance in our body – homeostasis. The ability to be able to efficiently use the oxygen that is in our blood is dependent on the Bohr effect. Simply put if we over breathe then we have too little carbon dioxide in the system to be able to effectively use the oxygen that we are breathing in. Carbon dioxide plays a very important role in a huge number of things including: vasodilation (the expansion of blood vessels), oxygen transportation, generation of free radicals, the inflammatory response, muscle relaxation, blood pH, and when the blood pH and homeostasis gets disrupted this again can manifest itself as any of the symptoms listed above.
There is lots of research which links breathing too much with a whole host of medical conditions and problems from breathing related conditions such as asthma and COPD, to chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, to mental health issues such as anxiety and stress. Quite a lot isn’t it?!
When you can restore homeostasis and get someone back into the rest and relax response then you can not only begin to improve people’s energy levels, improve digestions, clear sinuses and so on, but also de-stress their entire system. And the key to this? Some magic pill? Nope – just the way you breathe.