BREATHING AND THE EFFECT ON THE SHOULDERS
Learning to breathe properly was one of the fundamental and transformative parts of my practice and indeed my life! The air we breathe, taking time to breathe and to just focus on where you are breathing from, can switch your energy quickly, ease your pain, make your mind sharper and using breath as the force of life and action itself, when I learnt all the mistakes I had been making over the years and how that had effected my body and self, I made a conscious effort to realign beyond my practice in my walking and just general life. Then... I went and told all my friends and family about it!
Observe the way a healthy newborn baby breathes:
__ On the inhale, belly expands outwards, ribs expand outwards, shoulders
remain at rest
__ On the exhale, belly contracts inwards gently, ribs float down and towards
hips, shoulders are still at rest
When did we forget the fundamental essence of life is the breath?! The very foundations of being alive is breathing... why do doctors more often not talk through this with people with shoulder, neck or back pain, this is something you can try easily at home on your own, any age or fitness level and for free! Due to the stress of modern living, we lose our natural breathing process, and instead, most adults are chest breathers... a particular problem with women who often are holding their tummy in tightly, you may look slimmer in your jeans breathing this way, but after time is changes your physiology.
We send the air to the top of our lungs and, to compensate for the lack of space in this area of the body, our shoulders lift closer to our ears. Because also of the lack of space the back starts to hunch. Compounded by the fact that most modern activities are done in the frontal plane, this totally unravels the ideal position of our shoulders. Mobile and devices keeping your head in mis-alignment - all adds up to changing how we breathe properly! Having a desk job, spending much time at the screen and not taking lots of breaks can really start to create neck, shoulder and back pain as well as inviting in a neck hump, so get breathing and more practice to help ease these symptoms.
Other types of modern-day exercise try to remedy this problem by strengthening the muscles of the middle back and stretching the muscles of the chest. But what is the root cause of the problem? Instead of approaching it from the inside out, let’s get to the root of the cause and try these easy techniques...
EXPAND YOUR BELLY - Full yogic breath can help to unravel the bad habits and make it easier for you to work on countering their effects on the body. So fully relax into your breath, full expanding the belly and breathing using the diaphragm - on the inhale the belly expands. You can use this breath with your workouts and yoga practice, breathing out the abs contract, breathing in the diaphragm expands. This breath technique can also help tone your stomach over time, win, win!
- SHOULDERS DOWN - For almost all poses, except poses where the back is purposely curved inward (ie. Kurmasana), the proper position of the shoulders is always shoulders, away from ears. Collarbones are always wide and relaxed – throat open, melting the heart, feel your heart like it's expanding. No curving the shoulders in to protect your heart, those who have been hurt or have a tendency to do this and again curvy women who tend to hide their chest. Let's change this, breathe - feel open, loving and proud with your shoulders back and collarbone wide. This goes for meditation, which you can read about other Pranayama techniques.
BREATH THROUGH THE NOSE - This is a big one, that has so many benefits! The nose is a natural filter for air, warming or cooling the air before it reaches your lungs and protecting you against the estimated 20 billion particles of foreign matter every day!
That’s not just on the yoga mat, a number of research studies have found that breathing through the nose reduced the perceived rate of exertion during exercise, and decreased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system's “fight or flight” mechanism. Meaning that is can help to ease in everyday life from strength training, walking to running. Breathing through the nose has also shown to carry oxygen passed closer to the frontal lobe, you also breathe slower through your nose than with chest breathing.
Breathing Through the Nose Offers Unique Brain Benefits Too...
Slower breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system – the calming arm of our nervous system. Measuring your Heart Rate Variability (HRV), which is the beat-to-beat fluctuations in time between heartbeats, may help you to observe the calming influence of mindful rhythmic breathing.
Nasal breathing could have particular benefits for people with asthma, allergies, stress, anxiety, poor exercise tolerance, poor dental health and infections, nasal congestion, those with sleep apnoea, and snorers.
Breathing therapy might also be helpful for people with cardiovascular disease.
Slow breathing at around 6 breaths per minute is linked with improved response to stress caused by low oxygen levels and the preservation of healthy blood pressure responses in well individuals, people at high altitude, and people with heart failure and hypertension.
In October, a study in The Journal of Neuroscience considered the relationship between memory and how we breathe, so we are only still researching these benefits that yogis have known for thousands of years.
Moreover, if you ever want to let out a big sigh or exhale out of the mouth, always feel free to do that, it's a great way to expel energy!
- RELAX + CONNECT TO YOUR BODY - Breathing is an innate and automatic bodily process, so you’re doing it whether you’re consciously trying to or not, about 23,000 times per day. What you can do, is refine and deepen your breathing practice simply by paying attention to it. Taking some time out of your day to focus on your breath and add in a meditation would be an excellent way to start to re-align your breath and your body. Think of it in two parts: Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, allowing your chest and belly to expand as air fills your lungs. Then exhale slowly through your nose. Repeat. That’s the basics of breathing.
From there, you may move on to other forms of pranayama practice, you can read about here.
Focus on Reducing your pain.
So when you have started to address these key postural and breathing techniques and begin to adjust, in may feel uncomfortable as your body adjusts, diaphragm slow breathing will prevent any muscle tension or anxiety from making your pain worse. But how to try these out to make them feel better?
Learning to breathe diaphragmatically requires practice, concentration and awareness. Diaphragmatic breathing can basically be done in two postures .i.e. lying down and in the sitting position. Here we list the main steps involved in each of the forms.
A) Lying Down
- Lie on your back on a flat surface or in the bed. Keep the knees bent and head supported. If required, use a pillow under the knees to support the legs. Place one hand on your chest and other below the rib cage.
- Breathe in slowly through the nose allowing your stomach to move out against your hand. Try to keep the hand on the chest as still as possible.
- Tighten the stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale. When needed you can exhale fully through your mouth to expel energy.
B) In sitting posture
- Sit comfortably, with knees bent and the shoulders, head and neck relaxed.
- Place one hand on the upper chest and the other below the rib cage.
- Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale.
To begin with, diaphragmatic breathing should be done for 5-10 minutes about 3-4 times a day. You can gradually increase the amount of time once you are comfortable doing the same.
You may want to look to Dr Joe Dispenza for some wonderful meditation and pain relief tips using the mind and breathwork.