Yes, it’s simple. Yes, it’s the foundation of basically every function of the human body. Yes, it’s harder than it looks. And, yes, it’s almost always overlooked because of its simplicity; we are already born “knowing” how to do it. Right?
You’d think. But life circumstances often conspire to affect our breathing patterns in myriad ways. Not the least of which is pregnancy and the hormone bomb-drop of the early (i.e. first 12 months) postpartum period.
The good news is we have a *lot* of control over how we breathe. And learning to recognize patterns and their triggers is very valuable information. Manipulating your breathing can prevent/stop/reroute just about any circumstance imaginable. Seriously.
Today, play around with directing your breathing to different areas. Think of, or physically place your hand on, a spot and send it there. It starts out that simple. Can’t do it? Keep creating the intention and keep practicing. You just need to wake up a forgotten skill. Most likely. Barring extenuating circumstances, of course.
Here, I’m playing around with one-sided lateral rib expansion. Fun little party trick! 🤓
I know, I know, there is some lingering upper ab gripping. I am, *we* are, a constant work in progress, should you choose to seek the path of self-improvement. It’s a fun one!
It is allergy season folks! And for many of us, that means sinus congestion. I would normally see an awesome acupuncturist for some sinus focused acupuncture but since covid 19 we can’t do such things.
Enter: acupressure self-treatment! I would always get a needle placed between my eyebrows and could feel my sinuses draining, like they were melting. So I looked up acupressure points and found a cool trick to closely mimic my experience of sinus drainage. Try it and see how you do! I do it a few times/day when I feel that telltale pressure. And each time, poof. Pressure gone!
Place tongue in the roof of mouth and press up. Close mouth and breathe deep and slow. Place thumb or finger in space between eyebrows and press somewhat firmly. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
How we breathe directly effects our pelvic floor so I do what I can to make sure my breathing is working *for* me not *against* me.
Way better than allergy meds, but not quite a replacement for a great acupuncturist, of course. Desperate times call for getting creative!
Midback rotation! One of my favorites. I always thought of myself as being pretty mobile, and then a PT I was working with asked me to rotate my thoracic spine (mid and upper back). Um, barely anything. I cheated 💥big time💥with my lumbar spine (low back)...which is a no-no.
As I watch other humans in nature moving and doing (I can’t help it!), I see a lot to be desired in the midback rotation department, especially us mamas. When you walk, do you feel your hips swishing like the agitator in a top load washing machine? Do your arms swing? If so (yay!) does your upper body (ribs and up) move any? Take a video of yourself walking and see what you see! (Little insider info: swishing hips might look sexy, but they are really not good for you in the long run.)
I will save walking mechanics for another post (it’s a lot!) but for now, here is a great little mobility exercise you can do before you even get out of bed in the morning. Hold your top knee down and don’t let yourself cheat by allowing the pelvis to rotate. How far down can you get your top elbow at first? Breathe into those top ribs and on each exhale sink a little farther into the stretch. Do a few breath cycles and then roll forward. Repeat a few more times and then switch sides.
Note: bend at the elbow and hold your hand behind your head for the most accurate rotation. A straight arm allows you to cheat with your shoulder complex and make it seem like you have a lot more range than you actually do have.
Is one side harder? How much can you get your elbow down towards the floor without forcing but by using breath work to ease it down? Any pain or discomfort? This should be a very gentle and easy exercise. Listen to your body and only do what you can do comfortably and pain free.
Lateral rib expansion. Oh so good. I have been working on this daily since January and I finally feel like I've got some! I was a chest-breather-turned-belly breather, so it was really hard for me to break those habits and learn a new pattern. It does require an obsessive focus, for sure, but it is so worth the time.
I like to first do some focused side breathing while blocking the opposite side so that I can open up tight sides and low back. Do 3-5 breaths each side and make sure you are sending that breath where you want it! Watch out for breathing too far down into the pelvic floor. I feel a crazy stretch in my side every time so I try to do at least 5 of these through the day, but ideally up to 10 times! Then, check out that amazing lateral expansion.
Ten months ago, there was exactly zero movement out to the side. Oh sweet progress.
Now, it is daily maintenance to keep things moving in the right direction. Some days are better than others, and I notice that stress really clamps down on my sides and back so I make sure to fit in extra breath work on those days.
Breath re-training is tedious work. Real talk. Just keep chipping away at it each day and don't expect miracles early on. I like to take a lot of video to track my progress and on the days I feel frustrated with the process, I check out where I have been and where I am now and it is an instant mood lifter! I'm serious. I felt so vain at first, but truly how else will we know we have made progress along the way with these "small" things?
Try this out and let me know how it goes!
It sounds so simple, huh? It can be, but for some it is SO HARD. My favorite thing to do is get down on the floor, prop my legs up on a table/bed/couch/ottoman and just chill out.
Focus on doing your really amazing 360 breathing and moving those ribs laterally (out to the side). Hang out as long as you feel comfortable, but I usually end up spending anywhere from five minutes to an hour (if I fall asleep!). So deeply relaxing.
The back can relax fully, too, which is great for tension/pain. Let your legs really flop to the sides and pay attention to *anywhere* you are holding tension. I store mine in my left groin and jaw 😎 So mindfulness is key here. Put something under your head if it is uncomfortable for your neck or your ribs thrust too much.
See if you can feel your breathing down into your pelvic floor. This will help relax things, big time. To me, it feels like my bum is expanding/opening, and that is how most people describe the sensation in my experience. This is a good thing for all my tight pelvic floors! You have to learn how to let go and allow it to expand fully in order for it to effectively contract completely and at the right time.
Deep squat for back body expansion. Bellisimo. This is perfect for those of us with a high hinge point. This is the curve in the back that had migrated a little farther up towards mid back, commonly seen in the postpartum body. It is also usually much more exaggerated of a curve than the normal low lumbar curve we like to see.
Grab onto something very sturdy (i.e. won’t move!) and sit back enough that your arms will be straight. Relax into the squat and make sure the fronts of your ankles are relaxed, too (no tibialis anterior activation). Feet and knees together, head down if possible, and breeeeathe. Slow and deep, aiming for the bra line. You may (hopefully!) feel this down into your pelvic floor. If not, focus on this and see what you discover. Don’t let your breath go past your bum though. Let it stop there, otherwise too much efforting could create a bearing down 🛑. Do this for 3-5 good breaths and then go back to whatever you were doing. I try for a few of these daily. They help relax my very overactive paraspinals and are helping me work on decreasing a feisty anterior pelvic tilt!
A modification for prolapse or knees that don’t enjoy end range flexion is sitting on a full foam roller, then wrap your arms around your legs instead of holding onto something. I personally have more difficulty with the modification and end up breathing more into my neck. More proof that everyone has different needs. Even with a prolapse I find the full squat works better *for me*. Try both and see what works better for you. I use a foam roller for the modification but you can use a yoga block, stair, curb, firm folded yoga-type blanket, etc. I will do these at the park sometimes, squatting down onto the low divider between the woodchips and grass and it works great! Dropping your head down helps to round the upper back and create more mobility there, but is not required.
**Sound on if you are needing the jarring sounds of toddler noise during breakfast!
Another installment in the Breathing Basics series! I will go slightly in-depth into some of the key elements of really good 360 degree breathing. Let's get those diaphragms moving!!
Learning how to breathe into your back is hard work if you haven’t been using a great pattern (e.g. stress/shallow breathing, chest breathing, shoulder breathing). The easiest way to learn is in crocodile pose🐊
Lie prone on a firm surface and support your head with your hands or a small towel roll, legs extended, body relaxed. Breathe slowly and deeply 3-5 times, targeting your midback and lower ribs. Think “bra line” or where a heart rate monitor would sit. Dizziness is obviously a side effect of deep breathing, so keep really deep stuff to 3-5 breaths at a time, then resume quiet breathing. Do this as often as you think of it through the day. I also find this is a great way to chill out right before going to sleep.
The goal is to create the habit of breathing fully into your back, belly, and sides, and to move you out of the all-too-typical stress breathing pattern of using our chest and shoulders. Learning how to exaggerate it with deep breathing is the first step, then you scale it back to a more functional application, quiet breathing (which is what you do all day long).
At first it might be hard to feel anything moving if things are really sticky back there but use some visual feedback like a mirror or take a video of yourself so you can see. Aligning what you see with what you feel helps you to learn new tasks more rapidly. It also helps you find areas that need improvement.
The more you do it the better you will get. Then, you can start working on this in different positions. Sitting in the car or a chair are good places because of the tactile feedback from the seat back.
Did you know that full, diaphragmatic breathing can decrease blood pressure, re-frame stressful situations, improve your mood, improve your ability to recruit abdominals, relax paraspinals, and give your abs a workout, all in one sweet package?! It's true. Breathing correctly triggers a vagal response which kicks in the "rest and digest" area of the nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system to be exact. If you really want to nerd out, check out Stephen Porges' Polyvagal Theory. It will cross your eyes and blow your mind.
Being able to expand your ribs through your back is a key element of 360 degree breathing. More tips coming soon! In the meantime, breathe often and fully!!
Lateral (side) rib expansion.
Do you have it? Or is it all chest, or all belly, maybe all shoulders? Stand in the mirror and watch yourself, or take a quick video and see what it is you do.
Lateral rib expansion is so important for getting obliques to chill out and to manage intra-abdominal pressures well. Without this kind of rib mobility problems start to emerge gradually (diastasis recti, prolapse, hernias, constipation, and incontinence to name a few)...or suddenly!
Have good expansion into the sides already? 🙌 Well done! If not, all you need to do is practice! You really can't overdo good breath training. Lying on your side, knees stacked and bent at 90 degrees, and head propped comfortably is the easiest position. As that gets better and you can get 2-3 inches of lateral excursion on each side then start to challenge yourself in sitting, standing, walking/running, lying flat on your back, etc. And remember, do both sides. You may be surprised to find that one side is easier or more mobile than the other side.
It can be deceptively hard to do at first. I have done a LOT of work to get to where I am and I still can do some more work. But, it is a great first step on the road to recovery. The video above is my left side only, and it has been my hardest side since having my second baby. Left rib flare, decreased muscle tone in (everything!) left side abdominals, and really tight right side abdominals. I have had all of the muscle imbalances, I am pretty sure! This makes for maximum frustration but also maximum problem solving and using my clinical brain, which is extremely fun for me :)
Try it out and let me know how it goes! Make sure to check back for more breathing basics as we talk about all of the basic elements of good breathing. Oh, wait...you didn't know there was such a thing as "bad" breathing? This will be fun!
Runner, lifter of children, PTA, CPT, PCES, pelvic health zealot