How does breathing feel to you? Are you breathing in all sides of the rib cage or does your breath feel stuck up near your chest and neck? For many of us it is the latter, and it probably doesn't feel all that great. Over the course of our lives, non-respiratory muscles have compensated for weaknesses in the muscles that are supposed to be involved in breath. Practically any imbalance in the body can have an effect on breathing. This is why posture is so important!
There is a lot of information out there about breath, how to breathe "correctly", and different types of breathing techniques. What I will offer in this post is a technique that has helped me breathe more efficiently and connect to my core. You may have heard of diaphragmatic breathing, but there are a variety of ways that it is taught. I understand best as a 360 degree breath. If you have a pet, especially a dog or cat, watch how they breathe. They don't breathe up into their chest cavity or by their front legs. They breathe into their entire ribcage, not just the front, but the back and sides as well. This is what we want to emulate - a full, rounded breath that utilizes the diaphragm, a foundational muscle for breathing, lengthens the pelvic floor on an inhale and contracts the deep core muscles on an exhale.
I show this standing, but it's really great to do on the floor so you can get feedback into the back ribs. However, standing is a great way to practice when you're in line at the grocery store or need a break from sitting at your desk. Either way, get your hands on the sides of your ribs for feedback and breathe the way you normally do. Notice where you breath rises and falls.
Then start to take deeper breaths and on the inhale push the breath into your palms. Get your thumbs on the back ribs as well so you feel the breath going into the back body. Notice how the pelvic floor slightly lengthens, the tiniest sensation of having to pee or a bit of pressure on the bladder. This should be very small, but if you cannot inhale deeply enough without having to release your bladder, it could be a sign of pelvic floor dysfunction. And in which case, learning the next part of this breath is even more important.
3. On your next exhale, contract the pelvic floor, drawing the two sit bones together and feel the musculature at the very bottom of your pelvis slightly lift up. Continue that contraction up through the abdominal cavity and to the ribs where they will "close off", laying flatter on your torso.
4. Continue for a few more breath cycles and observe how you feel afterwards! You may feel a release of tension in the low back or a lower heart rate. Our diaphragm shares connections with our hip flexors, our low back muscles, our abdominal muscles, and our pelvic floor - if any one of these areas are imbalanced, it can show up in our breathing.
So, why breathe sub-optimally when you can breathe with your diaphragm more efficiently, get more oxygen and feel more energized?? Let's make the most of every breath while we can. Try this diaphragmatic breath exercise and let me know how it goes!