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Breathing Tips That Can Change Your Life

Remember to breathe! It’s important!

With an average of > 25,000 repetitions a day, breathing may be the most important movement practice that you do throughout your day.

Unfortunately, at some point of our lives, many of us have lost the ability to breathe optimally, and could benefit from re-training of this very important skill.


Why is breathing SO important?

Simply put, breathing allows oxygen into your lungs in order for your body to function and thrive. Oxygen helps feed energy to your muscles and organs, and provides assistance to the autonomic nervous system, which controls heart rhythm, metabolism, digestion, etc.

An  ‘optimal’ breathing pattern allows for many health benefits, while a ‘suboptimal’ (or dysfunctional) breathing pattern can lead to musculoskeletal related pain, increased stress levels, and systemic disorders.


What constitutes an optimal breathing pattern?

An ‘optimal’ breathing pattern is also referred to as diaphragmatic breathing. This type of breathing utilizes our diaphragm muscle as the main source for lung expansion. The diaphragm is a three dimensional dome-shaped muscle that sits below your mid to lower rib cages.  As we inhale, the muscle flattens and causes expansion of the thoracic cavity to allow oxygen to flow in to your lungs. After the inhalation process, air is exhaled and the diaphragm relaxes to its resting position until the next breath cycle.

What is constitutes a ‘dysfunctional’ breathing pattern?

Dysfunctional breathing utilizes accessory muscles as the dominant source for lung expansion.  Accessory muscles comprise of neck and back musculature such as: the upper trapezius, scalene, sternocleidomastoid, levator scapulae, and the paraspinals muscles that run down either side of the spine.  If you are an accessory muscle breather, you may notice shrugging of the shoulders or extension of your lower back when you take a deep breath.

Assess your own breathing!

Do you have a diaphragmatic breathing pattern, or an accessory muscle-breathing pattern?

In order to assess this, place one hand on your navel (or belly button), and position your other hand onto your chest, right above your breastbone.

Now, TAKE a DEEP BREATH, and notice which hand moves first.

If the bottom hand moves first, you are using a more efficient breathing pattern. If the top hand moves first, you have a more dysfunctional breathing pattern. The body knows the difference and adjusts your physiological and functional state accordingly.

Now, Practice!

In order to practice a diaphragmatic breathing pattern,

First, (1) lie on your back and place both hands onto your stomach. Maintain your lower back with full contact on the surface. Next, (2) breathe into your hands and allow them to rise up toward the ceiling without excessive movement and shrugging of your upper body. Take 15-20 slow, deep breaths.

Once you have mastered this routine, place your hands on either side of your lower rib cage, and then your lower back, to practice lung expansion towards multiple three-dimensional directions.

 If you have difficulty with performing these exercises, or are interested in learning more about the benefits of proper breathing habits, feel free to reach out to Dr. Zachary Mease at our Physical Therapy Clinics in Jersey City and Weehawken.

Thank you for reading, and breathe easy!

Dr. Zachary Mease, PT, DPT

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