The Best Way to Breathe
Recently, I have heard several theories about the “right way to breathe.” Every expert has a great idea on how to breathe and how not to breathe. Often, they suggest their way of breathing is THE BEST. Studying this, I discovered what a surprisingly controversial subject breathing could become. It always concerns me when someone says there is one way to breathe or move in general. Our bodies have developed several strategies to breathe, and our bodies did this for a reason. We need different breathing strategies for different positions, goals, and activities.
When I work with children with neurological conditions, they usually use one or two patterns for breathing. They usually end up with a tight rib cage that cannot expand. The inability to breathe through their rib cage affects their function. It means when they bend over, twist or compress their stomach, they cannot breathe. It also affects their balance and ability to engage the deep postural muscles for stabilization.
My experience of years working with children with neurological conditions informs me as a read through the research on breathing. It allows me to know correct and incorrect information about breath patterns. After extensive research both in studies, books, and real life observations, my favorite book for breath work is The Anatomy of Breathing by Blandine Calais-German. It lists out the many ways to breathe and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the all of them.
Calais-German uses the breath to increase the mobility of the rib cage. Often, patients of mine come in with extensively decreased rib cage mobility. Their other therapists and yoga instructors have taught them to belly breath. While belly breathing lowers stress and anxiety, if done exclusively, it can limit the mobility of the rib cage. It can also weaken the transverse abdominis and obliques.
Here are a couple of my favorite, lesser-known strategies for breathing:
- Diaphragmatic/lateral rib cage mobility: To perform this breathe, sit or stand with your hands on the sides of your lower rib cage. Gently tuck your stomach in, the way you do when you want to look thin. Don’t let your hips move during this process: this is not a pelvic tilt! As you inhale, let the sides of your rib cage expand while your abs (and pelvic floor if you can) stay firm. When exhaling, push your hands together so your ribs go inwards. Repeat this as many times as you like. This breath strengthens your core, allows your diaphragm to activate, and strengthens your serratus anterior. The serratus anterior supports and a healthy thoracic curve.
- Many people have decreased thoracic kyphosis. The kyphosis curve lies on your upper back. If your upper back is flat, this breathing technique could help you. Sit on a chair with your feet on the ground. Bring your hands to the opposite elbows and lean forward, putting your arms on your legs. Allow the movement to come from the upper back, so you round forwards through the top of your spine. Let your head rest comfortably in your lap or hands. As you breathe in, allow your stomach to stay contracted as you breathe into this part of your back. If you have someone who can place their hands on your upper back, this will help the process. As you breathe out, have them push deeper into your back and lighten up as you breathe in. This helps mobilize your posterior rib cage, which is tight on most people.