Belly Breathing Builds a Better Body
Proper breathing is important for improving your core and stabilizing your spine. This will create the foundation you need to deal with the postures and movements of daily life, as well as during exercise and sports. If breathing and stabilization are incorrect, then your body will start to use compensatory patterns which could lead to injury and pain. One study found only 25% of the general public exhibited normal breathing mechanics (Liebenson, 2003). The study also showed a significant correlation between upper chest (improper) breathing and neck pain.
Abnormal breathing patterns (upper chest breathing, aka reversed breathing) can have negative effects on spinal stability, full body motor control, and posture. Stresses and postures in the modern world have led to a widespread loss of normal breathing mechanics. Also people prone to anxiety or in acute pain rarely have the ability to breathe naturally. Everyone can benefit greatly from a daily practice of breathing exercises. Proper breathing patterns require having a relaxed abdomen and enough space (without resistance of poor posture or restricted clothing) for it to expand. Then the diaphragm (at the base of the lungs) can contract naturally as a reflex - expanding the lungs, while also enlarging the belly dimensions in all directions - front, sides and back. During exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes while the muscles around your core, including the pelvic floor, contract and tighten up. This coordinated effort forces the air out of the lungs and provides increased stability for the spine. Proper breathing and the stability it provides also decrease your sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) response so your body does not feel that it is in a state of stress.
Basic breathing technique is an important foundation that is best practiced on a regular basis. Daily attention to proper breathing technique will allow you to breathe properly throughout the day and also help you to relax and to stabilize your spine during all postures - both while still and for movement and exercise. Making sure that proper breathing can occur is one of the first steps of correcting neck pain, back pain and even shoulder and hip problems.
Instructions on Belly Breathing Technique
Lying down or sitting in a comfortable chair, try to relax your body as much as possible.
You can use a pillow under the knees to support the legs if lying down.
Close your eyes for better awareness; scan your body for areas of tension.
Relax your head, neck, throat, chest, belly, hips etc
Place both hands on your abdomen (at or below your belly button lower than shown in the pictures) and follow your breathing, noticing how your abdomen expands in all directions.
If you find that your chest is moving the most then you are doing reversed breathing, and this will be part of what will eventually change as you practice belly breathing.
Inhale calmly and deeply - only about 3/4 full - to get air to the very lowest part of your abdomen. (When you breathe fully in, a 4/4 full - then you will use your chest and shoulders for accessory breathing, which is only needed for emergency high oxygen demand.) Place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest.
The goal is to minimize movement in the chest, while expanding and contracting 360 degrees in your core.
Try breathing both in and out through your nose to assist this calm, belly breathing.
You can try putting a book or pillow on your belly when you practice so you can watch it rise and fall.
Exhale slowly and in rhythm with your inhalations.
Pay attention to the flow of your breath. Strive to make it smooth and gentle, finding a slow and steady rhythm.