Exercise of the Week – Breathing

Breathing Drill
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I have been all over the place with my blog content since unveiling the new website. Some of the articles I have written have been genuine and personal to me. Some of the material has had me feeling like I  just wrote a  research paper. All in all, something seemed to be missing that caused me to step back and put some thought into my responsibility as a member of the blogosphere. I arrived at these questions to help me pin-point the purpose of my blog:

  1. What can I say that is worth the time subscribers and visitors will give in order to read my content?
  2. What can I share that isn’t already being addressed by others?
  3. What is the goal I hope to achieve by writing a blog?

I whole-heartedly believe in the modalities I am teaching in my classes and workshops. I am committed to staying current on the best practices of healthy movement, so that I can be an asset to athletic development for those who hire me with a performance goal in mind. But I also want to help others with simple goals like being healthy humans who take strong, proud steps for the rest of their lives. I feel like I have finally found my niche after nearly 8 years of teaching yoga and movement. I am beginning to understand the science behind movement and how to program exercises to help people achieve their goals. And THAT is what I have to share that isn’t currently being covered in other blogs I read.

Today is the first installment of my weekly blog The Exercise of the Week. Please understand that most of what I share did not originate with me. Almost everything I post will be something that I have learned from someone else . When appropriate, I will always refer you to the original source of the movement so that you can study further, if you choose. Today’s material is from the work of Dana Santas, CSCS, E-RYT. 

I chose to start with breathing because it is the most basic movement of all, and it has an impact on all of our other movements. We take upwards of 20,000 breaths a day; the more shallow your breaths, the more you can add to that number. While some breathing is considered involuntary (like breathing during sleep) our voluntary breaths are definitely under our  control. Breath has a profound affect on numerous systems of the body: the cardiovascular system, central nervous system, respiratory system (obviously), peripheral nervous system, immune response, gastrointestinal tract, and more and more and more. So, from the perspective of general health, learning to breathe in the most efficient way possible is a no-brainer.

What about the athletic benefits of proper breathing technique? When we learn to let the diaphragm do its job, we give all of the accessory breathing muscles the opportunity to go back to doing their jobs. When we learn to breathe from the diaphragm the rib cage is released from living in a constant state of extension. The ribs relax and return to an optimal postural position which then frees the scapulae to sit optimally on the rib cage. As a result, the thoracic spine returns to its ideal kyphotic state, and the lumbar spine is able to relax into a more natural lordotic curve. Imagine walking around all day in your ideal posture without ever having to give it a second thought. It can happen. And itt will happen, if you retrain yourself to breathe as nature intended.

Take a look at the cover image below before you start the video. Look at the position of my bottom ribs. Notice that these ribs are extended from my abdomen. This is a fairly normal orientation of the ribs for the majority of us; however, it is not optimal. The ribs are in extension because I am filling up my lungs by recruiting the accessory breathing muscles of my upper chest and back. You may think it is normal to feel your chest rise and fall with your inhale and exhale, but, this is actually a very inefficient breathing pattern – especially for athletes. Athletes can improve shoulder extension, internal and external rotation, scapular engagement, head position, and more just by learning to use the diaphragm for breathing and freeing all of the energy of the upper chest and back for the demands of their sport. Wasting energy to breathe with muscles that weren’t made for that just doesn’t make sense, once you know better. 

FamiliarizeYourself with your Diaphragm

To begin, lay flat on your back with knees bent and feet hip distance apart. Place your hands on the lower ribs with your fingers in line with the curve of your ribs. (This is not shown in the video so that you can see what is happening without my hands to block your view.) Follow the cues in the video. Do not be discouraged when this does not happen easily. It has taken me a solid year of practice to arrive at what you see in this video (and I still have room for improvement). Inhale for a count of 4 moving your ribs laterally. Exhale for a count of 7 knitting your ribs together at the midline, back toward the spine, and pulling the tips down toward your hip bones. Take 5 of these breaths twice a day until you feel like you can feel the lateral movement of the ribs on the inhale and the engagement of the core and freeing of the diaphragm on the exhale.

Diaphragmatic Breathing Drill

 Now that you have the hang of the rib kinematics, here is the drill to solidify this new technique as part of your everyday life. It won’t happen overnight – nothing worth doing ever does. But I want you to try to incorporate this drill twice a day. Do it in the morning and before bed. Or do it before your workout. Or do it when you need a mental health moment. You can do it in the line at Starbucks. You can do it while you are walking the dog. The idea is: when you think of it, do it. Focus on breathing correctly some of the time until you find you are breathing correctly most of the time. Here’s what to do.

  1. Place a block or towel between your knees and  hold onto it just tight enough that it doesn’t fall out. Feet are hip distance apart.
  2. Exhale first. All the air. And then a little more.
  3. Inhale and lift your hips just high enough that the pelvic diaphragm is in a straight line with the respiratory diaphragm. (Not the full bridge you are used to.)
  4. Exhale as before, 7 counts pulling ribs in, back, and down.
  5. Hold empty for 3 counts.
  6. Inhale for 4 counts moving ribs laterally.
  7. Continue for 5 cycles.
  8. Drop hips.
  9. Repeat for one more round.

 What do you think? Is this manageable? Have I convinced you it’s worth a shot? Will you come back next week to see where we go from here? To be honest, I don’t know what next week’s exercise is yet. Will you help me figure it out? Is mobility keeping you from reaching a goal? Let me know where your problems lie. Do you have a pain that keeps you from doing what you love? Tell me what’s going on.

Do you know someone who might benefit from this content? If so, can I count on you to share it? I love this work, and I am working hard to be the best at it. I don’t get paid unless people want what I am offering, so the more people I reach the better my chances of making this work. Thank you, in advance, for your support!

If you want to be better at being a human, then you and I are on the same page. The mobility work I am teaching, practicing, studying, and programming is designed to do just that. Let’s get better at everything…….together.

Use it or lose it,

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