360° of Breathing
Breath is life, breath is connection. We all breathe from the moment we are born; it is one of the most basic bodily function, but many of us breathe incorrectly. Breathing is not supposed to come primarily from the chest, but from the core.
We begin to shift to chest breathing when our backs, necks, and shoulders become tight and cause us to have a disconnection between our diaphragm and pelvic floor. This is something that slowly happens as our bodies get tight and imbalanced with day to day use, not overnight or consciously. No one wakes up in the morning thinking, Today is the day! Today I am going to breathe wrong and make my body work harder.
It is so important to pause and check into our breath so we can function efficiently and be healthy. The cool thing is that we can also use breath as a tool to rebalance our bodies. Allow me to share one of my favorite breathing exercises that I frequently use to release tightness.
It can seem counterintuitive for breathing to come primarily from our cores instead of the chest. The chest has many important roles, such as housing our hearts and lungs, but its part in breathing is as the secondary muscles. When we rely on the chest to do most of our breathing, we are unable to fully expand our lungs and rely on smaller, shallower breaths.
To get a big deep, cleansing, life-filling breath, you need it to come from the core. Breathing into the core allows the diaphragm and pelvic floor to assist. The diaphragm and pelvic floor pull down to make a vacuum-like force that helps the lungs to expand to take fuller deeper breaths. The diaphragm and pelvic floor then rebound and come up to help push out the carbon dioxide. For optimal results, the diaphragm and pelvic floor must be parallel to each other. I like to think about it our core like a can.
When we are tight and our ribs and diaphragm are out of balance, we are unable to efficiently breathe. Our bodies are all about efficiency, so it begins to rely on the chest to get it done instead.
Learning how to connect to the proper breathing pattern allows us to take deeper, more efficient breaths and works to connect our bodies as a whole. When we correctly breathe into our cores we engage the diaphragm, pelvic floor, intercostals, and deep core muscles. The mechanics of breathing should be a 360 degree pattern involving the ribs, diaphragm, abdominal wall, lower back, and pelvic floor. The ideal breathing pattern includes the ribs, stomach, and back expansion with inhalation and the ribs, stomach, and back pulling in with exhalation.
Using our breath, we can re-find 360 degrees of breathing and release areas of tension and stickiness. When we normalize the movements of the ribs, we can balance the intraabdominal pressure and get a core connection when you breathe. As a result we will start opening up the different parts of our bodies to increase the breathing connection. If it's sticky, this is something your body would tend to avoid. When it's the body’s only option, it will give in and start moving and it's going to start loosening up some of the stickiness.
How To: 360 Degree Breathing
Start sitting up nice and tall. Put your hands on your rib cage and take a deep breath. What did you feel? Where do you feel yourself expanding? Where do you feel yourself not? Where's that breath primarily coming from?
Let’s start opening up the back. Sitting up, pull your knees into your chest and curl up into a ball. Bring your forehead down towards your knees. Try to maintain this position while you take a deep breath. You will feel your stomach and diaphragm get constricted positionally and it will force the breathing pattern into the open back. Take five deep breaths in this position focusing on deepening the back expansion with each breath.
NOTE: If you have really tight hips and this is not an attainable position, you can do it sitting on a chair fully folded forward over yourself to get a similar benefit.
Now let’s open up the ribs and sides of our bodies. I like to do this with a mermaid side-sitting position.
Lean over and rest onto the elbow on the floor curling inwards into the core on the side. This position allows for the expanding the upper part of my ribs and bring the other hand down onto the floor in front of you to support as well and closes off that diaphragm again. This position encourages the body to breathe into the side body. Stay in this position and deep breathe focus on the open side ribs expanding with each inhale and pulling in with each exhale.
Take five deep breaths.
Flip and repeat on the other side for five more breaths.
Lay down on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Place your hands on your lower belly. Take a deep breath focusing on feeling a full expansion of the ribs, stomach and back, you should feel your hands rise with the inhale.
As you exhale, the stomach should tighten and the ribs come inward to assist with the exhale. Keep focusing on the breath going into the hands with the inhale and pulling away with the exhale.
Sit up tall and take a deep breath in to check in. Are you able to find a little bit more expansion in the front, sides, and/or back?
Sticky body parts are the result of all the weird posturing that we do in our day-to-day lives. This is why 360 degree breathing exercises are a great tool to manage tightness, keep the body balanced, and maintain breathing efficiently. If you also suffer from chronic back or neck tightness, this may be a great way to get the muscles to begin to release.
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