Breathe, Part 2: Taking a Full Breath

My previous post was an introduction to the diaphragm in all its glory, as well as an introduction to diaphragmatic breathing. I hope that in the interim, you have had a chance to practice diaphragmatic breathing, and that you are noticing some positive changes.

But there are those of you who may be having difficulty accessing this breath; if so, this post is for you. I have encountered some common issues that can impact the ability to take a full breath. Let’s take a look at some of them.

1. We are creatures of habit. For most of us, our habitual breathing pattern is shallow, driven by the muscles in our chest, shoulders and neck. Changing our rhythm to a slower, deeper breath can actually feel uncomfortable at first, because it is so foreign. The remedy to this is simply to practice. Lay down so that you are not fighting gravity. Placing one hand on the chest and the other on the upper belly can be helpful; directing the inhale toward your lower hand can help reduce excessive upper ribcage expansion common in shallow breathing patterns.

2. Minimal chest expansion: this is most commonly due to tightness in the thoracic spine and ribcage. A full diaphragmatic breath involves mobilization of the ribs up and out like bucket handles on the inhale. If the thoracic spine is excessively tight, this can limit ribs’ ability to move. To address this, place your hands on your ribcage and feel for the movement of your ribs up and out on this inhale, down and in on the exhale. If you do not feel this movement, slowly and gently inhale with the intention to breathe into your hands.

3. Excessive belly bulge or front rib expansion: This also indicates that there is tightness in the thoracic and lumbar spine that is limiting the diaphragm’s ability to fully contract. To review, diaphragm contraction causes a 360-degree expansion of the lower ribs. To improve aeration and expansion into the back body, practice breathing while lying on your belly, or while in child’s pose with your feet together, like this:

Both positions compress your abdomen, preventing full expansion to the front.

4. Minimal abdominal expansion: To review, the diaphragm descends as it contracts, compressing the abdominal organs and increasing intra-abdominal pressure. During quiet breathing, a relaxed abdomen helps to disperse some of the pressure by expanding slightly. Many people, however, hold significant tension in their abdominals; this tension prevents the abdomen from expanding, and prevents a full, relaxed inhale. To address this, try placing a heavy book or bag of rice on your abdomen, like this:

This technique, called sandbag breathing, can help to improve your awareness of the movement of your abdomen. The gentle pressure also feels very grounding and relaxing, which can help facilitate a full diaphragmatic breath. This should not feel uncomfortable in any way, so be sure to lighten the weight on your abdomen or take it off altogether if you have any discomfort.

Give these techniques a try, making comfortable, easy breathing your top priority. As always, if you feel in any way short of breath or lightheaded as you make changes to your breathing pattern, return to your natural breathing pattern and rest.

Stay tuned to learn about the connection between your diaphragm and pelvic floor, and how breathing can improve your pelvic health!

DISCLAIMER: the above information is for educational and entertainment purposes only, and is not meant to diagnose or treat any medical condition. This information is not meant to take the place of medical advice. Please consult with your medical provider for answers to medical questions or issues specific to you.

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