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Proper Breathing

Posted By On 06 Jan 2015
Natural Flower

Proper Breathing is important for your health.

In our office we commonly see patients with poor breathing skills. This is amazing as we breathe all day!

Improper breathing comes when all the effort to breathe is done with your rib cage. This commonly over strains the ribs where they connect to your spine and leads to poor gut coordination.

Proper breathing when resting involves breathing using your diaphragm.  Naturally, you will see babies breathing with their diaphragms when resting.  When this is done naturally, you can see the belly move with every breath, not just the rib cage.

What is the diaphragm?

The diaphragm is a muscle that pulls air into your lungs.  The muscle connects to the spine and the bottom of your rib cage.

What is the connection of proper breathing to digestion?

There are multiple mechanical, physiological, anatomical, and neurological implications of proper breathing and digestion.  Here are some examples.

Mechanical – The gut needs to move in order to function properly.  The fluid in your stomach needs to slosh around. The food being digested through your intestines needs to move in order to be digested properly.  This process works better with some assistance through movement.  If you are breathing properly, your diaphragm will create mechanical motion that will directly move your gut.  This is better for your body to digest.

Anatomical – The diaphragm covers up the space from the spine to the bottom of the rib cage. Above it is the lungs, below it is the gut.  The food stuff must make it from your mouth to the other end and blood must make it from your heart to your feet and back.  The tubes that carry the blood (arteries and veins) and food (esophagus) must travel through the diaphragm to do this.  The diaphragm therefore has holes in it.  These holes create the sphincters that also allow the opening from the esophagus to the stomach to close and open, allowing food to come down but not up.  We often see stomach hernia and hiatal hernia problems in patients with poor breathing habits and control.

Neurological – Breathing and digestion are both coordinated efforts of the body.  The brain controls and coordinates this process.  When the brain and nerve system is overwhelmed or stressed, the breathing is shallower, sped up, and more of it is done through the rib cage.  Also, the gut movement is put on hold while more coordination is focused on the arms and legs.  When the brain and nerve system is relaxed the breathing is deeper, slower, and done naturally with the diaphragm.   When relaxed the gut gets an opportunity to digest and move in a coordinated fashion.

Physiological – When relaxed, more blood (and oxygen from the lungs) is sent to the gut.  When stressed the opposite happens.

How does the spine connect to proper breathing and digestion?

The spine connects to both these processes in a mechanical and neurological way.

Mechanical – Proper spinal postures allow more space for the rib cage to mechanically move.  We mentioned previously that patients who breathe improperly with only their rib cages constantly have pain and problems occurring through their mid spine (thoracic spine).  As a Chiropractor, I am always reducing the stress on the thoracic spine and rib cage for patients who breathe poorly.

Slouching, or poor spinal posture, can negatively impact the ability of the gut to move as well.  Try slouching forward and feel the compression occur in the gut… That will definitely slow down anything trying to move its way through.

Neurological –The spine protects the spinal cord and allows the nerves from the brain to connect to the breathing and digestion systems.  The spine also has to hold us upright (or slouched) throughout the day.  The spine has multiple segments that can irritate or interfere with the message being sent along the nerves.  When these spinal segments interfere with the nerve signals, it is called a subluxation and can impact the coordination and function of the physiology of the breathing and digestive systems.

Since the coordination of breathing and the gut is done without our conscious thoughts, the interference of the communication between the brain-breathing and brain-digestion is often only noticed when problems start to occur.  Problems can range from headaches and pain to asthma, allergies, digestion problems, or worse.

How does Chiropractic impact breathing and digestion?

As a Chiropractor, I help impact breathing and digestion by reducing the interference of a patient’s nerve system and by encouraging proper function of their spine.  This allows the body systems, such as breathing and digestion to function better mechanically, neurologically, and physiologically.

Here is an example of how a child’s chronic asthma improved while under chiropractic care – check it out!

How to breathe properly?

After understanding the diaphragm and the connections between breathing, the gut, the spine, and Chiropractic… how do you breathe properly?

There are lots of ways to practice this, and you have to breathe all day.

Essentially, you want to use your diaphragm to breath deep, slow breaths while relaxing in a good spinal posture.  When showing patients this for the first time I usually have them lying on their backs and tell them to breathe.  When they breathe in I want them to see their stomach raise/move out.  Sometimes placing an object (a kleenex box works) on their belly that is light will help them see if their belly is raising or lowering.

When sitting, you can also practice breathing with your diaphragm by pushing into the back of your chair with your “breath” at your low back.

When you start mastering the diaphragm breathing when you are resting. Try it throughout your daily routines.  And whenever you recognize that you are only breathing through your rib cage, connect to a Chiropractor and get back the the basics of natural breathing with your diaphragm and spine in mind.

Overall, realize that proper breathing is important for your health.

The power of the Breath shared by our Mississauga Naturopath

Many people (including myself at times!) can underestimate the power of a proper breath. – Naturopathic Doctor Kirsten Almon
We take for granted that our body just automatically breathes for us. Very often while driving to work, handling a project, trying to reason with a toddler or in line at the bank, our breathing can become improperly shallow and rapid. This in turn can make us feel even more stressed, shunting blood away from our digestive organs to our muscles. This is a fight or flight response.
A great way to change this is to focus on deep breathing.

My personal favourite is the 4-7-8 breath.

Try adopting one of these exercises the next time you are in a stressful situation. It will completely change your physiology such that you will get more oxygen to your brain, feel more relaxed AND look younger (that’s always good!!)

What else can I read if I am interested in the power of breathing?

Here is another blog on how improper breathing is often seen in patients with back problems.  Check it out too!
If you need help implementing these strategies into your life, contact our wellness office in Mississauga!
Kirsten Almon – Mississauga Naturopathic Doctor at Erin Mills Optimum Health


Alternate nostril breathing

The origin of “alternate nostril breathing” comes from the Sanskrit translation “nadi shodhana”. The word nadi means energy channel and shodhana means purification. Thus nadi shodhana is a cleansing breath. It purifies the nadis, balances the left and right brain hemispheres and has a very calming effect on the mind. It also stimulates an area of the brain called the pineal gland to release serotonin and melatonin which help to promote deep sleep.

How to do alternate nostril breathing

Assume a sitting position, with the back comfortably straight. If you cannot sit comfortably in a yogic posture a chair is fine – the main thing is for the spine to be fairly straight. You can also do this lying on your back before sleep.

Bring your right hand up and place the fore finger and middle finger between the eyebrows (nasagra mudra). Use the right thumb to close off the right nostril and breathe in through the left nostril for 4 seconds. Then close the left nostril with the ring finger and hold for 4 seconds, then release the thumb and breathe out through the right nostril for 4 seconds. Breathe back in through the right nostril for 4 seconds, close with the thumb for 4 seconds and out the left again for 4 seconds. This makes one round.

Continue like this – out and in through one nostril, then out and in through the other. Keep the breath comfortable and relaxed. There is no need to strain.  The more you practice this type of breath, you may find that you can inhale, hold and exhale for longer periods. This shows your progression and is beneficial for your body. Be sure to keep the counts the same for each (inhale, holding, exhale).

Practice tips

  1. If you find that one nostril is blocked or the nose feels a bit stuffy, then close one nostril and do a few short sharp sniffs through the other nostril. Repeat on the other side.
  2. When you first practice just do 1 or 2 minutes, slowly build up to 5 minutes and then even 10 minutes if you feel to.
  3. If your right arm becomes tired, you can support the right arm by holding under the elbow with the left hand.
  4. This is wonderful to do before bed. Ideally 10 minutes before sleep.

This information and linked articles should be taken for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for health care advice. Enjoy these testimonials. However, a result for one patient may not be typical of all patients. Our aim is to help you have an excellent experience at our Mississauga office and to help you reach your health goals.

Dr. Callum Peever

Dr. Callum Peever is a Chiropractor in Mississauga at Erin Mills Optimum Health. He is a registered Chiropractor in Ontario and a member of College of Chiropractors of Ontario. He is also the Co-President and treasurer of the Halton Peel Chiropractic Society, Regional Director in Toronto for Activator Methods International, the past Director of the Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre Chiropractic Clinic, and a Clinical Instructor teaching the Activator Methods Chiropractic Technique to fellow Chiropractors.

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