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The Breath

How Does Breathing Affect Health?
Breathing, for obvious reasons, is a very important aspect of our health. However there is little attention paid to how we breathe. Ideally the breath should not be restricted by the chest, diaphragm or abdomen. It should be free in the body so that it supplies the oxygen to the body in almost any situation.
Stress, posture or unexpressed emotions can all lead to disruptions of normal breathing. There is no one right way to breath, but if there are restrictions, then it will compromise the bodies ability to deal with certain situations. The consequences for the two common types of breathing are shown below.

Chest Breathing - has a tendency to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, the fight flight reflex. This leads to higher stress in the body and a more acidic PH balance in the body. This will increase the tonicity of muscles, particularly the calves, back, shoulders, neck and jaw. Acidic PH balance in the body can also restrict enzime activity in digestion. This process can influence someone to be more of a "Type A" personality, active in body and mind with difficulty switching off.

Abdominal Breathing - stimulates the para-sympathetic nervous system, encouraging relaxation in the body and mind. It tends to lead to a more alkaline PH balance in the body. Muscles will tend to be more relaxed and blood will flow better through them. This process can influence someone to be more of a "Type B" personality, passive in body and mind, with a difficulty activating and engaging in the world.

Just take a few minutes to look at how you breathe. See if you hold your breath, or feel constriction, tightness or unable to relax any area of the chest and abdomen.

What Restricts Breathing?

Bad Posture - is caused by repeated habitual movements or positions. Over time this causes the soft tissues of the body to tighten or degenerate thus affecting the alignment of the bones and the structure of the body.
The main causes are personal habits, repeated movements or even poorly used or designed furniture that we repeatedly use, such as car seats, office chairs etc.
Tui Na massage is useful to help release the pain from bad posture, however the cause needs to be acknowledged and addressed for permanent relief. Otherwise short term relief from pain medication or massage will be needed repeatedly

Stress - can cause held tension in the abdomen, diaphragm or chest all of which can effect breathing, energy levels, digestion, menstrual cycle and many other factors. The chest might be very tight with constriction of the inter costal muscles between the ribs making getting a full lung of air difficult. Whilst not life threatening, it can over time lead to a more limited life, where the illusion of being unfit is actually limited breathing from some source.

Unresolved Emotions - can also cause tension in the abdomen, diaphragm or chest, with all the physical symptoms above. Unresolved emotions can be classified in Chinese medicine as, expressed, repressed and suppressed; expressed emotions are when one emotion overwhelms and keeps on being expressed without control ie crying or anger etc. Suppressed emotions, are when the emotion is known by the person, but they cannot express it. Repressed emotions are not known to the person.
Applying the right tool to the situation for you is important. For some people talking therapies such as counseling, psychotherapy or hypnotherapy can be useful. Others find Tui Na massage and Acupuncture helpful.

What Can I Do?
Any activity which focuses on breathing can be useful. Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Pilates etc. However if you can practice breathing exercises regularly in addition to other activities, it is most beneficial.
If you see a practitioner, be sure to talk about any problems you have with breathing as it is so important.

Here are two links to Qi Gong exercises and a brief talk by Jeffrey Yuen that can be very helpful for improving breathing technique. Click here and here.

This site may contain information on medical and health-related topics. This information is not meant to be a substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use this information for diagnosing a health problem or disease but should always consult your own physician.