- Integrative Medicine
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It is a common experience for many physical therapy professionals such as chiropractors, osteopaths, physiotherapists and others to notice that many of their patients suffering from back problems have poor breathing habits. The expansion and contraction of the ribcage with deep inspiration is often abnormal, uneven from left to right and they often breathe in at a different speed to breathing out. They also tend to suffer from a range of other conditions including cardiovascular, digestive and stress related health issues. An important key in rehabilitating many of these conditions is to get them to breathe more effectively.
The diaphragm is a large sheet of muscle, shaped like a parachute that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. It is attached to the ribcage around its edge and above it attaches to the lining of the lungs as well as a thick tethering ligament to the bottom of the heart.
Breathing involves contracting the diaphragm. When it contracts, it flattens, pushing down and outwards. This should make the lower ribs expand outward, while causing the upper ribs to move forward and up. As the diaphragm contracts and descends it causes air to be drawn into the lungs; it increases pressure in the abdomen, which promotes the circulation of blood through the organs, movement of food through the digestive system and secretion of hormones and other important substances. It also causes the heart to be pulled downwards, which assists the heart in pumping blood. The diaphragm is therefore considered to be the most important muscle in the body besides the heart – which it assists.
Our breathing patterns are influenced by many factors. A common one is structural – such as scoliosis causing the ribcage to be twisted, making breathing uneven. Another is arthritis and stiffness of the back, which prevents the spine and ribs from moving normally and restricting the capacity for air to enter the lungs. Another important influence is stress, which causes our breathing to become shallow and quick, rather then deep and slow when we are more relaxed. Maintaining stress over long periods of time can totally alter our breathing and hence oxygen levels, which can have wide ranging and destructive effects on our health.
It is important therefore to do everything possible to ensure that we breathe properly, something that few people do well enough to stay healthy. Proper diaphragmatic action can help to free up the spine and make it more flexible; it can improve heart function and lessen stress on your cardiovascular system – which is particularly important if you are already a heart disease sufferer; and it can improve all of your abdominal organs in their function, including the liver, oesophagus, stomach, bowels and other vital organs.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing.
Yoga stomach-vacuum (Uddiyana Bandha)
This is an ancient breathing technique developed in yoga which helps to strengthen the diaphragm as well as to cause a vacuum pressure in the abdomen that helps stimulate bowel motion, and circulation. Think of it as the reverse of pushing into a toilet motion – it decompresses the bowel as opposed to compressing it. It has been used by athletes wanting to strengthen their abdominal muscle wall and was popularised by bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is also commonly used to help repair the linea alba (central tendon of the abdominal muscles) after pregnancy, as well as tone the perineum. It is also an excellent technique during detox programs, such as the one conducted in this clinic