Before you read this I want you to take a deep breath….
Did you notice your chest rise? Or did your belly stick out? A bit of both maybe?
Your diaphragm (an umbrella shaped muscle that sits underneath your ribcage) is your
primary breathing muscle, however, because it is not aesthetically pleasing and
because most people sit at a desk for work, we lose the ability to control this muscle
and our neck and chest muscles start to compensate. Have you ever noticed how
babies have their bellies sticking out most of the time? They are excellent belly
breathers and we can learn a lot from them! We are not meant to become chest
breathers as we age.
Chest breathing is a problem for two major reasons.
1. Your neck and chest muscles are not designed to act as your primary breathing
muscles. These are actually accessory breathing muscles, which means they are
there to help increase oxygen uptake when needed (i.e., exercising, high stress
situations). Relying on these muscles as primary breathers puts them under
constant strain and can cause a lot of excess tension, which eventually leads to
neck and mid-back pain. Additionally, these are muscles that carry a lot of stress.
We need to give them a break!
2. Because you are not expanding your diaphragm fully, your lungs are not taking in
as much oxygen as they should be, which means there is less oxygen going to
your tissues. Your body needs oxygen for everything: healing, growth, and life
essentially! It is also an extremely important muscle for spinal stability and core
strength – things that often need to be worked on when you are suffering from
And if that wasn’t enough reason to start incorporating some belly breathing into your
daily routine, it will also help decrease stress and pain. When we take short, shallow
chest breaths, we tend to activate our sympathetic nervous system (our nervous system
responsible for stress) which can heighten our awareness of pain. By taking deep belly
breaths we are able to down regulate our sympathetic nervous system and modulate
the way our body processes pain signals.
To belly breathe, its easiest to learn while lying down.
1. Place a hand on your stomach, and on the inhale push your stomach into your
hand to a count of 4 seconds.
2. Pause at the top for a second or two
3. Exhale as you release your belly to a count of 4 seconds
4. Repeat 10 times
This will get easier the more you do it and eventually will become automatic. It is like
any other muscle – you need to train it!
Dr. Michelle Camastra