Common Breath Holding Patterns Part 2: Chest Breathing 

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, breathing from your diaphragm is one of the best things you can do to improve your health (and it’s truly a quick fix!). Doing so will help your body heal itself from a variety of issues, like anxiety, shortness of breath, heart issues (by bringing in more oxygen), and so much more! 

In order to re-train your body to do this, you need to know if you are suffering from one of the three common breath holding patterns. In this post, we’ll cover chest breathing – specifically what it is, how it affects your body and how to correct the issue. 

Before we delve into the topic, it’s good to see what this pattern looks like. Here’s a great illustration from Buzzle.   

How does someone chest breathe? 

As I mentioned earlier, chest breathing is a normal part how the body functions, but it should only be used as a last resort. Think about what happens when you find yourself in a scary situation. Do you find yourself taking short, incomplete breaths, making it harder and harder for you to you to fully catch your breath? That is EXACTLY what chest breathing is and it can have some seriously negative health repercussions. Let’s look at a few of them.

What does chest breathing do to your mind and body? 

Breathing from your chest is a natural thing to do when we’re in a state of fear, that’s why many people do not see a problem with this way of breathing. However, following this pattern for an extended period of time, rather than breathing from your diaphragm can cause several health problems.

Physical

  1. Chronic upper body tension. When you force yourself to breathe through your chest, rather than starting at your belly, the secondary respiratory muscles get used instead of the primary ones. When the secondary muscles are forced to be used more often than necessary, it is very likely that they will tire quickly and be sure to alert you that they don’t want to be used improperly!
  2. Digestive issues. Constantly holding in your stomach prevents the organs in your abdomen from getting adequate circulation. This, in turn, prevents the body from having the ability to release the toxins it prevented your body from absorbing, especially through excretion.
  3. Weight loss/gain. Digestive issues don’t just effect your ability to go to the bathroom, it plays directly into your weight loss efforts. One of the most common digestive issues is constipation. Yes, this is kind of a gross subject, but it is extremely important to improving your health. You know that when you are constipated, you aren’t able to poop as often as you should. This is bad because when you poop, your body is essentially expelling the bad things that it cannot use. If you aren’t able to do so regularly, your body loses the ability to absorb key nutrients – that’s right, nutrient absorption happens in the digestive tract – which prevents you from achieving your weight loss goals.
  4. Heart issues. As discussed in my previous post on diaphragmatic breathing, the heart is directly tied to the way you breathe, because of the oxygen it has access to. When you breathe from your chest, your lungs cannot fully expand, which prevents the body from getting the maximum amount of oxygen it needs to perform at its best.. This is important to keep in mind because the heart pumps oxygenated blood to different parts of the body and if there isn’t enough oxygen, the heart will react by pumping harder to try to deliver more oxygenated blood, creating a vicious cycle of harder work for itself.


Mental 

Chest breathing doesn’t just impact your mental health, it is sometimes caused by mental distress. In order to better help those who suffer from this unhealthy breathing pattern, it is wise to examine the underlying cause and treat that rather than focusing on the after effects.

Chest breathing usually starts when you are in a stressful situation, again, because it is a survival mechanism humans have developed over the years. Now that we know why this breathing pattern occurs, it’s important to understand how our modern lives contribute to the problem.

Men and women are equally vulnerable to dealing with this, but for different reasons. In America, men are expected to be able to handle anything and everything that comes their way without complaining. How ridiculous is that!?

Women, on the other hand, tend to become chest breathers because of the unrealistic standard of beauty in the United States. From a young age, girls are taught that having ample breasts and a small waist is the ideal body type, which is the perfect pressure cooker for chest breathing!

Now that we know WHY men and women are susceptible to chest breathing, we can see create tools that help undo this pattern.

Fixing the problem

Chest breathing is an easy issue to correct,  if you give yourself the time to practice these tools:

  1. Take 3 to 5 minutes every day and consciously try to get the belly to expand when you inhale and contract when you exhale. Do this for three to five breaths, then take step back and see how you feel
  2. SLOW DOWN – since chest breathing is triggered by anxiety-inducing situations, take time each day to purposefully slow down and think about the good people and things you have in your life. It sounds trite, but trust me, it is one of the best solutions available!
  3. Give away any clothes that are too small for you. While you may think that the smaller clothes will motivate you to be the healthiest version of yourself, it is trapping your body in an unhealthy breathing pattern. I know when I take off clothes that are too tight I feel better instantly!


Conclusion 

Chest breathing is a common problem that can be easily resolved with time and patience with yourself (this is important!). Even if you can only practice correct breathing for 5 minutes a day, it is so worth the effort, and your body will thank you in many different ways.

I’d love to hear what you think of this breathing pattern and/or if you’ve tried the correcting exercises.

Namaste 😀💖🕉️

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Common Breath Holding Patterns Part 1: Reverse Breathing 

As I mentioned in a previous post, breathing from your diaphragm is one of the best things you can do to improve your health. Unfortunately, in America, we are taught from a young age to hold our stomachs in and breathe from the chest (girls are particularly vulnerable to this!). Holding the stomach in for extended periods of time causes the person to start contracting the belly and expanding the chest with every inhale. This is called reverse breathing and it can have multiple negative effects on your body. 

Here’s a great illustration of the three differences between the two of ways to breathe. 


What does reverse breathing do to your mind and body? 

Breathing from your chest instead of the diaphragm can cause a number of issues. 

Physical 

Constantly holding your stomach in, whether you are physically doing it or wearing constricting clothes, can cause:

  1. Digestive ailments like indigestion, heartburn, bloating and gas because the organs in the stomach are being squeezed 
  2. Upper body tension, specifically in the back of your neck, jaw, upper shoulders and back, 
  3. Coordination problems because your breathing pattern has been reversed and it cannot support your muscles properly 

Mental 

  1. Occasional confusion and/or disorientation as your body isn’t given the opportunity to get the maximum amount of air it needs to function at its best. 

Are you a reverse breather? 

As I mentioned earlier reverse breathing is a common problem in the United States, and could possibly be the biggest threat to our health as a nation. 

To know if you are a reverse breather, all you have to do is look at the front of your body in the mirror. Your belly should expand with each inhale and contract with every exhale; if your belly contacts on the inhale and expands on the exhale, you’re a reverse breather. 

Fixing the problem

Luckily, this breathing pattern can be reversed, no pun intended, if you give yourself some time to practice these two tools:

  1. In your spare time, consciously try to get the belly to expand when you inhale – after 30-60 seconds, step back and see how you feel 
  2. SLOW DOWN – many people get stuck in a reverse breathing pattern when they try to do to much 

Conclusion 

Reverse breathing is a common problem that can be easily resolved with time and patience with yourself (this is important!). I was a reverse breather for my entire childhood and about 5 years into adulthood – I’m now 31 – and I feel so much better!! Even if you can only practice correct breathing for 5 minutes a day, it is so worth the effort, and your body will thank you in many different ways. 

I’d love to hear what you think of this breathing pattern and/or if you’ve tried the correcting exercises. 

Namaste 😀💖🕉️

The Importance of Diaphragmatic Breathing 

During my first weekend of training to become a yoga instructor, I learned a lot of great information about proper breathing techniques that I had to share with you guys! 

We spent quite a while taking about the importance of being able to breathe from your diaphragm, which is the primary muscle we are supposed to use to breathe. It’s a dome-shaped sheet of muscle that’s located in the lower section of your ribs. You know that you’re using your diaphragm to breathe if every time you intake, your stomach expands. 

Why you need to breathe from your diaphragm 

Growing up I thought breathing from my chest was the best way to breathe because I was allowing my lungs to fully expand.  It turns out that was I WRONG!! 

You see, your diaphragm sits just below your lungs and when you use it to breathe, it will sink down closer to your intestines so your lungs have the maximum amount of space to expand. If you don’t breathe from your diaphragm, you’re not only depriving your body of the oxygen it needs, you’re not allowing it to release its excess carbon dioxide stores. 

Organs connected to the diaphragm 

Although your diaphragm stretches across the width of your chest cavity, it has special openings that make a path for blood vessels and nerves to pass through. This creates a communication channel between the organs that are situated on either side of it. 

What sits above the diaphragm? 

Your lungs and heart are the only two organs that are above the diaphragm. As I’m sure you know, these organs help you:

  1. Breathe in enough oxygen, 
  2. Circulate fresh, oxygen-rich blood to all your tissues. 

What organs are below the diaphragm? 

Your  stomach, pancreas, gallbladder, liver, small & large intestines, spleen and kidneys are situated below the diaphragm. When these organs have enough room to function they will:

  1. Properly digest your food, 
  2. Absorb important nutrients, 
  3. Store eliminate toxins, 
  4. Break down poisons, 
  5. Destroy harmful bacteria, 
  6. Produce new blood cells, 
  7. Filter and regulate the concentrations of water and solutes in the blood,
  8. Excrete wwaste products through urine 

What are the consequences of not breathing from your diaphragm? 

As you can see, so many of your major organs are connected to the diaphragm. Logically, it makes sense to note that if you don’t allow the it to fully expand and communicate with the organs connected to it, there are health issues you’re more likely to develop. Some of the most common issues are heart disease, joint/muscle pain, weight gain, fatigue, dizziness and exhaustion. 

The type of issue you develop is related to the different types of non-diaphragmatic breathing people do. Over the next few weeks (a new one every Tuesday so you have time to take in the information), I’ll explain what these breathing patterns are and how they affect your body. 

Conclusion 

Breathing from your diaphragm is one of the best things you can do to improve your health. Learning how to do so is simple – when you’re in a quiet place take 2-3 minutes to lie down and focus on your breath. Every time you inhale, make a concerted effort to breathe from your stomach and not your chest. 

During this time try to breathe only through your nostrils and every time you inhale, it should become more and more natural for the bulk of that air to go into your belly, causing it to expand. 

Don’t worry if this doesn’t become second nature right away. As I mentioned earlier in this post, I breathed from my chest through my childhood and it took me a solid 3 months of practice to make the switch from chest breathing to diaphragmatic breathing. 

Remember that each time you can breathe through your diaphragm, you are doing something good for your body and it will use the benefits to its advantage. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect!