Diaphragmatic breathing has shown to decrease heart rate, put us in a better state of mind, and help down regulate our system when we are overwhelmed. However, diaphragmatic breathing can also help us improve core control and overall strength. Just like skeletal muscle, our respiratory muscles are made up of slow and fast twitch fibers that concentrically contract and eccentrically lengthen with every breath we take. On the foundation of their functional properties, slow twitch fibers and fast twitch fibers are present in equal quantities within the diaphragm. The diaphragm however, features an abundance of slow twitch, higher aerobic oxidation enzymes that have a greater number of capillaries. These physiological properties allow our respiratory muscles to work involuntary, or without our conscious thought.
The diaphragm is composed of skeletal muscle and dense collagenous connective tissue. It originates at the sternal part of the xiphoid process, costal cartilage of the 7-12th ribs, down to the 1st-3rd lumbar vertebrate and finishes at the central tendon. When you breathe in air through the thorax, volume increases pushing the domed shaped diaphragm down and expanding the ribcage transversely and vertically. As the thoracic volume increases, the ribs flare up (externally rotate) to allow for even more volume and pressure to occur. Once the lungs are filled with potential air, the exhalation process occurs where the diaphragm ascends back up, rotating the ribs down to expel all the carbon dioxide. Through exhalation the abdominal muscles and deep core muscles concentrically contract, pulling the ribs down and tilting the pelvis back to close the distance between the anterior ribcage and pelvis.
When there is an increase in higher intensity exercise and decreased movement, our posture changes leaving the ribs flared out and the pelvis tipped forward. This decreases core strength and increases stress on the joints.
Our secondary response (fight or flight), heighten its activity and stimulus allowing us to get from point A to B through compensatory patterns or through poor movement. This changes our breathing patterns because we have to work harder to move because our muscles and joints are not in the optimal position to do what they do best. This eventually becomes a subconscious pattern and becomes integrating into our intrinsic involuntary respiration patterns. Over time these patterns spill over into our daily activities and take on roles, such as contributing to tight muscles (neck, lower back, hips), anxiety, loss of sleep and neuromuscular fatigue.
Improving breathing patterns and posture will decrease stress and improve overall quality of life. However, it takes time and consistency. Remember, you take around 16,000 to 24,000 breaths a day, times that by 365 days and you have some work to do. It is a process that won’t change overnight but with a little bit of work a few days a week you can make great gains in how you feel overall. Work on standing up more often, walking to the water cooler or around the office once every few hours can keep your core muscles stronger after a long day of limited movement. Sitting upright and taking in a few breaths in through the nose and then exhaling through the mouth, tucking the ribcage down ever so subtly, can easily change your posture and allow your body the opportunity to down regulate and enjoy the present moment.
These are simple approaches to improving breathing patterns in a world of controlled chaos. During your workouts you want to get away from the world and let off some steam. It is a time to push all your troubles a side and get after it. That is how it should be but don’t forget that if you work on your breathing before and after your workouts, you have the opportunity to push the limits even further than what you have before.
We thrive off the ability to breathe in oxygen, transfer it, then exchange it for waste so we can expose of it through exhalation. Your posture effects this process, check out part 3 as I go through some simple exercises you can do before and after to add to your tool box of exercises.