August is national wellness month, and wellness has been a hot topic in our society and a focus of this blog. There are so many ways to address wellness. This includes yoga, healthy eating, building community, self-care, meditation, exercise, massage, therapy, and this list goes on and on. Luckily, access to information is not limited, you can find a blog, article, book, or YouTube channel on every topic. Each avenue is useful and can help boost our wellness. However, the number of choices and where to start can be overwhelming. The good news is each activity will incorporate 1 important piece. It is something we do every day: breathe.
Why is your breath so important?
Our respiratory system and our lungs are connected with and regulate our cardiovascular, nervous, musculoskeletal, and immune systems. How we breathe can ramp up or cool down our nervous system, causing us to tense up or relax, respectively. If we take shallow breaths, our lungs, and trunk (including spine, muscles, and ligaments) don’t move and can stiffen. This will exacerbate back/neck/shoulder pain. Our breath also facilitates the perfusion of blood to our organs and the movement of fluid through our bodies. Luckily, unlike the circulatory and immune systems, we can control our breath and positively or negatively impact the other systems.
I breathe every day, shouldn’t I be good at it?
There are multiple strategies that people use for breathing without even knowing. The most common is chest breathing. This relies on the neck and upper trunk muscles to breathe for us. Chest breathers do not use the full capacity of their lungs, forgetting the bottom 2/3. This can lead to increased stiffness and pain. Poor breathing strategies commonly occur after injury, pregnancy, increased age, or a sedentary lifestyle. Our trunk, lungs, and diaphragm can get lazy if we stop using them to their full capacity.
How do I improve my breathing?
One simple technique to improve your breath is called box breathing. First, you steadily inhale for 4 seconds. Fill your trunk up like a balloon by breathing deep into your belly, your sides, and your shoulder blades. Next, hold your breath for 4 seconds, then exhale for 4 seconds, emptying your “balloon” that you just filled, follow this by holding your breath for 4 secs. Repeat 3-10x, or for around 1-2 minutes. With practice, you will improve the strength and flexibility of your trunk, calm your nervous system, and improve blood flow not only at the moment but also long term.
The body is amazing and wants to heal itself if we let it. If we let our body move, breathe, stretch, and/or rest, we will see the positive effects in multiple areas of our life. If you or anyone you know has concerns about implementing these concepts due to pain, weakness, fear, etc reach out to your primary care physician or connect with the therapists at Action Potential Physical Therapy. A provider can safely help guide you on your wellness journey.
Photo by Valeria Ushakova from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-doing-yoga-inside-a-room-3094215/