Posted in Team Finish Line.
Let’s Talk About Breathing
Breathing is arguably the body’s most important function. All cells, from those in the brain to those in the muscles of the foot, rely on oxygen as a means of energy and rebuilding. Nearly each of the twenty thousand breaths we take each day are passive, meaning an automatic function of the autonomic nervous system. Because of external factors, such as prolonged sitting and heightened anxiety, breathing patterns can look a bit different during a pandemic. Furthermore, respiratory infections such as COVID-19 impact the lining of our airways as well as alveoli, the small air-filled sacs in the lungs. This limits how much oxygen the body absorbs with each inhalation. So whether healthy or sick, it is more important than ever to adopt a powerful breathing practice to calm the nervous system, heighten the immune system, and expedite recovery of the musculoskeletal system.
Most have heard of the phrase “mindful breathing,” but what should we actually be mindful of? The first goal is to ensure that the ribcage, the body protector of lungs, moves in three directions, allowing the lungs to expand and contract to their full potential during respiration. With inhalation, the ribs should expand up, out to the sides, and front to back. This enables the most efficient functioning of important respiration muscles, such as diaphragm, intercostals, and obliques. If we only push out the belly, rib mobility is significantly decreased, so focus on the thorax, instead.
Another cue is to tune into the exhale. Breathing out is just as important as breathing in, as it clears byproducts such as carbon dioxide. Trying to inhale without a full exhale is like pouring water into an overflowing cup rather than drinking the water before refilling. Work on a slow, controlled, full exhale, as if you are blowing air into a taut balloon. As you do this, the ribs should draw down and in towards your belly button.
After you have this technique down, try it with Pranayama, or breath control technique, which is the fourth of the eight limbs of yoga. Designed to downregulate the nervous system, it translates to “extending the life force,” which it accomplishes by slowing heart rate and calming the mind. One Pranayama technique which can be done cohesively with three-dimensional breathing involves a 1:2 ratio of breathing where exhale takes twice as long as inhale. Take your time inhaling as your ribs expand in each direction, then exhale twice as slowly, feeling your ribs retract in as described above.
During these uncertain times, try to incorporate a consistent breathing, movement, and meditation practice. It will keep the mind and body grounded, while heightening recovery and improving the immune system.
Please know that if you are injured, have a lung/heart condition, or are pregnant, discuss with your MD or DPT to decide if breathing exercises are right for you.