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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- 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
- 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!
- 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!
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.