It’s Good to Breathe

By Maria Lopez, Chartered Physiotherapist.

Have you ever taken a moment to think about your breathing? In my personal experience, most people have not! In our society, rushing to places and feeling stressed or overwhelmed by work is quite normal. The challenge is how we deal with these situations. When stress becomes an issue, changes in breathing patterns can occur, exacerbating musculoskeletal disorders.

The main function of breathing is to transport oxygen to different tissues throughout the body, including muscles. It is important to have a good oxygen flow to maintain healthy muscles.

Subconsciously, in our daily hectic lifestyle we start taking quick, shallow breaths which take in less oxygen. As a consequence, less oxygen passes through the lungs which in turn restricts oxygen flow to the muscles. When this becomes a habit, we reinforce this breathing pattern making it our automatic choice of breathing. This could be the start of a vicious circle.

I am going to describe four different types of breathing:

  • Diaphragmatic: When the diaphragm muscle descends giving space to the lungs to fill in from the bottom.
  • Thoracic: When the thoracic wall accommodates the breathing by expanding, forwards, backwards and sideways. Modifications of this breathing pattern are used in some types of exercises like Pilates or Ashtanga Yoga.
  • Clavicular: This is the shallowest patter of breathing. When this is the only way we breath, we end up over using the muscles which pull the top ribs and the clavicle bone upwards allowing only the top of the lungs to expand. Constant use of this type of breathing could contribute to neck, upper back and shoulder issues in the long term.
  • Total breathing: There will be situations where you will need a larger amount of air and oxygen. In these scenarios, you will combine the above described types of breathing to expand your lungs as much as you can. This happens, for example, when you play a wind instrument and need to play a very long phrase or when you are recovering after a sprint.

As a flutist and having taught the different breathing techniques to flute students in the past, I have become very aware of breathing patterns. When someone comes to me with musculoskeletal pain, in many cases I can see overuse of their neck, back and shoulder muscles every time they breath. Have you ever though about how many breaths we take during one day? We normally take about 12 breaths or more per minute, If we are constantly over tensing muscles to inhale, there is a lot of unnecessary tension accumulating!

Ideally you should be able to control each different type of breathing so you can correctly use them when required.

As a challenge, I would like you to take five minutes of your day and concentrate on your breathing technique. Can you identify from the descriptions above which type of breathing you are using?

If you can’t identify which type, or feel you can only control one of them, ask your physiotherapist for advice.

I am leaving you with a link to a video where you can visualise the muscles involved in your total breathing: Don’t worry if you don’t speak french, me neither (¡) but looking at the images will give you enough information.

@ : DVD de Roger Fiammetti accompagnant le livre ‘La respiration totale” aux Editions Dervy Paris’

I hope this gives you something new on which to work.

Keep well and keep breathing!

Perhaps you are interested in utilising Pilates or Yoga to assist with breathing and movement?

Find out more about classes and individual sessions at Life Fit here

To read Maria’s profile click here