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Breathing, everyone does it, but do they do it well?

Apologies to the avid fans of Errol St Osteo’s newsworthy, and occasionally glib, blog, there was an incident between a parked car, an aggressive driver and a Bill clad Bicycle that resulted in prolific and verbose swearing… and a fractured thumb.

But we’re back and we’re back to discuss breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing. An idea that was popularised in the performing arts world in the 19th century.

In the 1890’s there was a fellow called Fred Alexander. He was an actor in Tasmania with ideas of world fame. However these ambitions were repeatedly stymied by him losing his voice.

Not easy being an actor without a voice.

So Fred spent a number of years staring at himself in the mirror, comparing himself to other actors. Not dissimilar to Hollywood’s current crop of narcissists.

What he noticed was that his neck, chest and upper back muscles tightened whenever he was speaking and that if he kept the muscles relaxed not only would his voice project further but that he wouldn’t get sore after performing.

Like all good narcissists Fred named this approach after himself and thus Alexander Technique was born… and largely ignored.

Breathing has been researched more and more over the years and within the last 5 years the guru’s within the sports sciences have claimed a new amazing discovery, Diaphragmatic Breathing, with the catch cry of:

“If you can’t control your breath how do you expect to control your movement.”

So what is diaphragmatic breathing?

The diaphragm muscle is a large, thin horizontal muscle that sits between your guts and your lungs at the bottom of your rib cage.

Its main purpose is to drag the lungs downward into your abdomen, thereby creating a vacuum in the lungs and sucking air into them.

You know that you are doing it when your chest, especially your upper chest, stays relatively still and your belly rises when you take a breath in.

****** Home Exercise/Practise Technique*********

Lie on your back with your knees raised and feet on the ground.

Place a tissue box, or similarly weighted object, on your belly.

Make the tissue box rise as you breathe in whilst keeping your chest still.

****** Voila, Diaphragmatic Breathing **********

So why is it important?

To take a breath in, our chest cage must expand to create the vacuum that sucks air into our lungs. If the diaphragm doesn’t contract to bring our lungs downwards then other muscles must be used to expand our rib cage.

These muscles are called the muscles of Accessory Respiration and are in your neck, arms and upper back.

The accessory muscles of respiration are not designed to contract 13-15 times per minute and will therefore get sore. Not immediately but insidiously and then in a moment of high, short breathing stress, pow, they’ll hurt.

So why is Diaphragmatic Breathing important?

Because if you don’t do it you’ll turn up in my clinic with a sore neck, sore shoulder, headaches.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, breathing is such an integral, central piece of our biomechanical puzzle that if you do it incorrectly it will cause innumerable other side effects.

I’d list them but this post has already got a bit lengthy.

Breathe Well


Posted in : How the Body Works
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