Breathe Easy for More Energy & Stamina

Would You Like More Energy & Stamina?

I read recently that 95% of us hold our breaths on a regular basis.  That’s pretty much all of us – and consistent with what I see in my clients and students.  The most common forms of breath-holding are either literally holding our breath – nothing in or out for some period of time – or we grip in our diaphragm or belly and then use secondary chest muscles to breath, leading to short, shallow breaths.

Stop right now and notice your breath

Is there an up and down movement in your upper chest or shoulders?  Does your belly feel “scrunched up” with little in and out movement?  Does your bum feel kind of like an inert lump on your seat?If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you aren’t alone!  More importantly, you are missing out on the vitality and energy that comes with breathing well.  Plus you are setting into motion or contributing to a host of health issues.

Vitality, stamina, muscle strength

Breathing is based on releasing CO2 from not only our lungs and blood but from our tissues and then nourishing all these levels with fresh oxygen.  When CO2 builds up, muscles get achy and weak, your brain gets foggy, and your energy levels drop.  Many of us try to “fix” this with taking a big “deep” chest breath – but it doesn't really work.

Nervous System & the stress response

Chest breathing communicates “beware!” to the nervous system, triggering the sympathetic response: blood is drawn inward away from periphery of body (cold hands and feet?), adrenaline is triggered, muscles tense, and more.  Most of us live in some degree of “arousal” and so our resources get depleted as we lose access to the “rest and renewal” parasympathetic nervous system.

Cardiovascular health 

The pericardial sac holding the heart sits on top of the diaphragm and is nestled between the left lobes of the lungs.  Every time the diaphragm extends downward creating an inhalation, filling the lower lobes of the lungs (which cannot fill unless the diaphragm moves down), and then draws back up on the exhale, our heart is gently massaged by both the lungs and the diaphragm.  This helps maintain good cardiovascular ease and function.

Mood & depression

Studies have shown that shallow chest breathing is directly related to depression and anxiety.  Try this: slouch down in your seat, let your shoulders droop, feel how your tummy gets even more compressed.  It’s almost impossible here to get a good diaphragmatic breath- or much of any breath! CO2 builds up, the nervous system goes into stress response, pericardial sac is compressed … it’s no wonder we feel “down!”  How many of us sit slumped at the computer (or TV) for hours a day?!

Shoulder, neck, upper back tension

The diaphragm is the primary muscle for breathing, and for normal levels of activity this is enough.  Secondary breathing muscles in the back and shoulders are for extended exertion only.  These muscles have other jobs to do in everyday life.  When we rely on them for everyday breathing instead of on our diaphragm, not only are they not capable of drawing a full breath, but they easily tire, contributing greatly to tension and strain in these areas. Source:

Correct, healthy breathing

In the accompanying image, you see the shape of the diaphragm at rest, after an exhalation. At this point, the lungs are squeezed (think of a sponge when you squeeze it out) and there is a bit of upward pressure on the pericardial sac.   On the inhalation diaphragm muscle flattens downward, allowing the lungs to expand and the capillaries to fill with blood ready to absorb oxygen (think of un-squeezing a sponge allowing it to absorb water).  The pericardial sac is likewise released.  As the upper half of the  abdomen expands the pressure downward gently pushes the organs of the lower abdomen and our belly rounds.  At the end of the inhale all this reverses, and so on, in and out as long as we live.   If we regularly chest breath, then like any muscle, the diaphragm gets weak and loses its range of motion, and needs to be developed.

Try this:

Relax back in your chair and place one hand on your naval and one hand on your upper chest.  Begin to breath naturally and see where you notice movement under your hands as you breath.  If there is any movement in your chest, see if you can quiet that allowing the lower movement to “take over” your breathing.  Don’t try to force your breath especially not your inhalation.  If you are having trouble finding this, on your next few exhalations lengthen the exhale by drawing your naval back toward your spine for the last part of the exhale.  Then relax totally and let the inhalation follow. Repeat a few times, keeping the upper chest and shoulders totally relaxed and still.  Then relax your effort and breath normally.  What do you notice now?

For better results, try this laying flat on your back in a comfortable position (try a pillow under your knees).Let me know what you find!