If we’re lucky we don’t need to think about it. Its automatic and hopefully unproblematic. So the importance of breathing:
- It means we’re still alive! It may need to work in different ways for different people due to injury or illness.
- How we breathe has an effect on the mechanical parts of our body. Directly related to the process are – ribs, and associated muscles, the spine and diaphragm muscle. If we breathe “well” then hopefully these areas will work effectively and without discomfort. Common issues with breathing mechanics can occur with respiratory disease, ongoing stress and problems that effect our spinal position, including general poor posture.
- There are many important structures that pass through the diaphragm muscle, notably the oesophagus (food pipe) and major blood vessels. Poor use of the diaphragm muscle can also have a knock-on effect on digestion and circulation due to these relationships.
Ideally, on taking a breath in you want to use the full capacity of your lungs. Really feel the lower rib cage and diaphragm expand. Shallow breathers tend to breathe far more through their shoulders and upper ribcage.
If you experience tension across the shoulders and in the neck, it can sometimes relate to alterations in breathing mechanics. Also, in other areas of the spine in relation to the rib and diaphragm muscle connections. Sometimes mechanical pain issues need to be considered more holistically, including breathing changes alongside other mechanical aspects. People who are in a lot of pain breathe differently. Other factors might include underlying illness, mental wellbeing and lifestyle factors.
There is much talk about meditation these days in relation to the benefits that can be gained mechanically, also for relaxation, and in the ways it can help people manage persistent pain. The focus on breathing in this practice may be enormously useful.
Whether you struggle or not, taking time for yourself to chill-out and stop is beneficial for general wellbeing. There is no need to over-think it, just note what you’re up to, and if necessary, gently try and implement some changes. Don’t panic! We all need to do what feels right for us, but if you fancy giving it a go. The following is a simple breathing meditation you might wish to try.
Lay on your back or sit in a position you feel comfortable, try and keep your spine straight.
Close your eyes if you feel comfortable to do so. Soften your gaze if not. Focus your attention on your belly. Feel your belly rise or expand on the in-breath. Then fall and recede on the out-breath.
Focus on the sensations in your body as you breathe. It may be the physical action of breathing as described, or the air travelling in and out. Or any other sensations that work or are noticeable to you.
Sometimes placing a hand over your belly/lower ribcage is a nice way to provide a better sense of the movement.
Spend as long as you want/can focusing in this way. Focusing on the in and out breath in the way that works for you. Trying to note your own pattern of breathing, and trying to breathe deeply into the diaphragm and lower ribcage, gently and without force.
It is inevitable that your mind will wander. When you recognise it has, accept it, and take yourself back to focusing on your breath.