We usually breathe without thinking about it. It may come as a revelation to learn that there is more than one way to breathe and that how we breathe affects our posture and mobility. There are also a variety of breathing techniques that can be utilized. Most people use a chest-oriented breathing pattern. They take a deep breath by expanding their rib cage. They pull their stomach in and breathe only into their rib cage, lifting it up as they inhale. This type of breathing recruits the chest, neck, shoulder and upper back muscles, which leads to poor posture and chronic tension, which in turn reduces mobility.
The most efficient and effective way to breathe is diaphragmatic or lower abdominal breathing. In the clip art image to the left, the top of the diaphragm is represented by the curving red line at the bottom of the lungs. Diaphragmatic breathing is sometimes referred to as belly breathing. Try placing the edge of your hands alongside the lower rib cage where the red line is and take a breath. If you experience a noticeable lateral expansion of the rib cage, you have taken a diaphragmatic breath. Now exhale by squeezing an imaginary sponge upwards in the stomach. Another way to make sure you are breathing diaphragmatically is to put the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth just behind your front teeth. This stimulates your vagus nerve ending, which is involved in the regulation of breathing, and causes diaphragmatic breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing has many benefits. It decreases blood pressure, decreases stress, decreases heart rate, and decreases pain and pain awareness. It also increases circulation, increases blood flow to the muscles, improves digestion, and improves ability to focus. Combining diaphragmatic breathing with extension exercises in the water is one way to decrease pain. Try walking backward and breathing diaphragmatically, lifting the crown of your head each time you inhale. Next press your shoulder blades down on inhalation. Relax completely during exhalation. Point your thumbs out to externally rotate the shoulders on inhalation and again relax completely during exhalation. For more information on diaphragmatic breathing, see the article written by Ruth Sova, the founder of the Aquatic Therapy and Rehab Institute, “Pain and Our Breathing Patterns” in Akwa June/July 2019 and her article “Aquatic Therapy Implementation” in Research to Practice Newsbytes Vol. 1 No. 2 Find the articles by logging onto the members only section of the AEA website.
The use of diaphragmatic breathing during exercise helps you increase your aerobic capacity, since it increases circulation and blood flow to the muscles. This is important for exercisers wishing to improve or maintain their levels of fitness. Elite athletes wishing to improve their performance may take the extra step of having the maximum amount of oxygen their bodies can utilize during exercise, or VO2 Max, measured in the lab. For more information on VO2 Max, see the article written by Dr. Luis Javier Pena-Hernandez, MD, FCCP in Garage Gym Reviews.
There are also breathing techniques to facilitate a variety of outcomes. The USMD Health System encouraged a 4-7-8 breathing exercise that is proven to help people relax. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and breathe out for 8 seconds with gusto! Dr. Nick Shroff, a urologist and Yoga teacher in Plano, Texas, did a presentation on breathing at a Yoga festival on June 16, 2022. He also described the 4-7-8 breathing technique, adding that it helps to put your hand on your belly and push the hand out as you inhale (diaphragmatic breathing), then relax the shoulders as you hold your breath, and finally push the belly in and relax the jaw as you exhale. He said it not only relaxes you but it also helps you fall asleep. Pursed lip breathing increases lung capacity. Breath in for 2 seconds, the breathe out for 4 seconds with pursed lips, as if you are blowing out a candle. An intentional breath hold improves fitness, calms the nervous system and decongests the nose. Take a small breath in and exhale a small breath, then hold your breath until the first sign of breath hunger. To make breathing more efficient during rest, close the mouth and inhale through the nose, then open the mouth and exhale as if you are trying to fog a mirror, whispering “ahhh!” Humming Bee breathing increases oxygenation to tissues, soothes the nervous system, and ventilates the sinuses. Inhale through the nose, then do a prolonged exhale with a humming sound. Press your ear flaps with your fingers to focus on the humming vibration. .If someone is hyperventilating, they are quickly taking in oxygen but not exhaling enough CO2. Breathing in a paper bag makes them inhale their exhaled CO2 and restores balance. Finally Dr. Stroff said that observing your breath anchors your mind in the present. (See my blog post on Mindfulness.) Laurie Denomme, the founder of WECoach, an organization that trains and supports water fitness instructors, described a breath optimizing strategy developed by Carl Stough, the founder of the Institute of Breathing Coordination. His strategies were used with emphysema patients and later by Olympic athletes to handle greater workloads. He called one breath strategy “whisper counting.” First inhale, then as you exhale, in a low whisper count 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 quickly and as many times as you can until you naturally run out of air. Then take a breath.
I find this fascinating and I’m looking forward to practicing diaphragmatic breathing with my classes. See you in the pool!