Now, more than any other time, we should regularly spend a few moments each day and think about our breathing.
The current change in our life styles will have a significant impact on our breathing, whether that is due to lower levels of activity from the imposed restrictions, or an increase in stress and anxiety due to the unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in.
Both of these scenarios will lead us to spending most of our time doing what we call Apical Breathing. This is when the breathing is mainly confined to the upper chest. As a result of apical breathing, the accessory muscles in your shoulders are doing all the work without the pay-off of a deep breath. Since the inhalation is shallow, the body has to compensate by breathing more frequently. This creates a poorer exchange of oxygen and increase tension in our neck and shoulders.
Ideally we should spend regular periods of time doing what is known as Diaphragmatic Breathing. This is when we use the diaphragm to lift and spread the ribs on inhalation and ease them back down on exhalation. This allows the lungs to work more efficiently, utilising a larger proportion of the lungs resulting in more oxygen being transferred into the bloodstream and around the body. It also reduces the work load of the muscles around our neck and shoulders.
Try these two approaches to improving your breathing technique, feel the benefits of increasing oxygen supply and reducing the tension in the muscles around your neck and shoulders.
Technique 1 ‘At Rest’
Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent up, feet flat on the floor. Place a folded towel or small pillow under your head. Place your hands across the lower half of your ribcage with the tips of your fingers slightly interlaced. Breathe in and allow your lower ribs to expand widthways. Let your fingertips draw apart from one another slightly. Breathe out and allow your ribcage to sink inwards and downwards. Your fingertips may interlace slightly as you empty your lungs. Watch that you do not lift your breastbone as you breathe in. Instead imagine the back of your ribcage spreading wide into the floor underneath you. Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed.
Once you have learned to do this exercise lying down you can then use this skill to improve your breathing when sat at your desk or when standing up.
Technique 2 ‘Being Active’
When we increase our activity levels we require more oxygen and therefore generally we employ more of our lung capacity to do this.
Current Government guidelines (as of 23rd March 2020) allow each individual to leave the house for exercise once a day. So a run, walk or cycle (within social distancing limits) are excellent ways of improving your breathing. If you are unable to do this then the following exercises can be done in your own home:
- Star jumps
- Step ups on the bottom step of the stairs
- Repeated sit to stand from a chair
- Squat thrusts/burpees
The list is endless so see what you can come up with!