Breathing is something you do without even thinking, but balancing breath takes some thought and intention, but it is THE basic fundamental step to achieving movement health. Without it all the other steps that are a part of our movement health system just do not work.
What do we mean when we say balancing breath?
Balancing breath, to us, means breathing with your diaphragm, instead of your chest which leads to stability in your core and lumbar region creating greater overall balance in your body.
Greater balance and stability help with preventing injury and performing every day activities properly from getting out of your car, picking something up off the floor, to lifting weights and athletic performance.
What is diaphragmatic breathing?
Diaphragmatic breathing, also called belly breathing is the process in which we use the contraction of the diaphragm in order to create an expansion of the mid-section to allow air into the lungs.
We are all born with the ability to create balancing breath. If you observe a sleeping baby you will see their belly will expand with their inhale and reduce as they exhale.
A key role of the diaphragm is to perform as a stabilizer of the trunk. Lewit suggests that if healthy breathing patterns are not in place, then no other movement pattern can be. He believed that if an individual did not demonstrate proper breathing patterns, the diaphragm likely lacked the coordination, endurance, and strength to function in its role of a postural stabilizer.
When using the diaphragm efficiently, we should be able to see an expansion of the belly more so than the expansion of the chest with a slight flare of the lower ribs.
Why is diaphragmatic breathing so good for you?
Decades of research on diaphragmatic breathing covers most of the physical benefits. More data in recent years have come out on the mental benefits of balancing breath.
We’ve picked the most common physical and mental benefits we see with our clients including:
- Increased core stability
- Increased power
- Decreased musculoskeletal pain
- Decrease stress and anxiety
- Increase attention
- Improved glycemic control through improved mental well-being
Physical Benefits of Balancing Breath
Increased Core Stability
Everyday movements involve our spine and core. Without a solid trunk we compromise the integrity of the spine leading to greater risk of injury.
Many of us picture “activating your core” as a means of activating your sit up muscles. You feel a tightening of your six-pack muscles that brings your chest closer to your pelvis. This is not the full story. The core is better thought of as a 360-degree cylinder or barrel. The top of the core being the diaphragm, the walls being the abdominal muscles obliques and transverse abdominus (TA), and the base being the pelvic floor muscles. The TA wraps around your abdomen almost like a natural back brace and is concentrically activated by drawing the belly in and eccentrically contracted as the belly expands with diaphragmatic breathing.
Core stability can be increased through diaphragmatic breathing. It allows us to create a neutral spine while mimicking activities where the core will be stressed in a given sport or activity. This neutral spine and activation of the core allows us optimal production of force (power) and motion.
Intra-Abdominal Pressure and Increased Power
The production of power is gained by creating intra-abdominal pressure. Intra-abdominal pressure is achieved when diaphragmatic breathing in conjunction with the activation of the abdominals creates a rigid stable surface in the core for your limbs to fire off.
This is why tennis players often grunt the moment they hit a tennis ball. That grunt helps activate the abs to creating stability leading to a scenario that produces more power, stability, and accuracy in their ground strokes and serve.
This applies to everyday activities like when you pick something heavy up off of the ground, unscrew a tight cap, and carrying groceries.
This helps with most athletic activities too like lifting weights, swinging a bat, throwing a ball, taking a jump shot. The list goes on!
Maximum intra-abdominal pressure is achieved when we can keep the transverse abdominus and pelvic floor contracted but at the same time allow a resisted expansion of the belly when inhaling. This is important because it now keeps our mid-section very stable.
Picture a water bottle without a cap screwed on. We bend, twist, and crumple that water bottle as we please. Once that cap is put on, it is much more difficult to manipulate the bottle because now there is a closed, pressurized system. This is what we try to achieve with diaphragmatic breathing in conjunction with proper core activation.
In the video below Stretch Affect movement health specialists explain intra-abdominal pressure, at-home drills, and its importance in lifting techniques and applying to sport.
At home drills to practice diaphragmatic breathing
90/90 hip and knee drill 3:30
Balloon breathing 4:35
Breathing and lifting technique
Dead lifts 5:47
Picking up kids 8:30
Farmers carry 9:12
Golf Swing and Lower Back Pain 9:45
Reduce musculoskeletal pain
When you do not practice balancing breath, muscles of the neck and ribcage go on overdrive to assist your breath which can lead to physical impediments such as increased muscle tension, poor posture, musculoskeletal pain, and reduced athletic performance.
A study, individuals with low back pain breathe differently than healthy individuals during a lifting task, showed those with increased lung volume had greater lower back pain when performing a lifting task. Increased lung volume may sound like a good thing, but not in this case. We are not looking for increased lung volume, but rather increased intra-abdominal pressure demonstrating proper diaphragmatic breathing and lumbar control.
Mental benefits of balancing breath
The benefits of balancing breath are not just for physical benefits, but mental aspects as well. Decreasing stress and anxiety is a major benefit most people have likely experienced, but other benefits like greater attention span and improved well-being are also realized.
Decrease stress and anxiety
Diaphragmatic breathing helps you relax and reduces the effects of the stress hormone cortisol on your body.
A shallower breath reduces the in-flow of oxygen in your body which causes an increased respiratory rate to make up for the lack of breath per inhale. An increased heart rate expends more energy and keeps you in a heightened state of stress throughout the day.
Ever taken a yoga class? One of the central tenets of yoga is to help you concentrate on the moment and momentarily forget stressful events of daily life. And the most important factor to achieving this state is through breath control or balancing breath.
Sustained attention span
A recent study noted attention improvement was gained after 15 min of diaphragmatic breathing and relaxation gained from diaphragmatic breathing improved attention test performance.
Creating balancing breath is not something to be overlooked. At Stretch Affect we place great importance on your breathing technique and will create good habits around breathing that will carry into your everyday life.
Improved glycemic control through improved mental well-being
Those with type 2 diabetes experienced greater lowering of HbA1c when diaphragmatic breathing was paired with conventional treatment.
Group A patients received conventional treatment for type 2 diabetes, and Group B patients received conventional treatment for type 2 diabetes plus training in diaphragmatic breathing and systematic relaxation and home practice of these stress-management techniques for 6 months.
There was a larger decrease in depression and anxiety scores and HbA1c in Group B than in Group A. The decrease in HbA1c was significantly correlated with the decrease in anxiety and stress scores.
This suggests, the addition of diaphragmatic breathing and systematic relaxation to conventional type 2 diabetes treatment appears to have led to improvement in mental well-being and glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Practicing balancing breath is beneficial for many physical and emotional aspects of health. At Stretch Affect incorporating proper breathing patterns will be a part of every session as breathing is an important component to any exercise. Balancing breath can also be a valuable tool to invite calmness and stability to every day activities.