There’s been lots of discussion recently regarding diaphragmatic breathing. Some people are aware of the benefits of this type of breathing and others are probably thinking ‘what’s the big deal?’ At a recent conference in California one of the more veteran presenters at a round table discussion said he didn’t understand the big deal everyone was making about breathing.
And I can kind of see his point.
Sometimes we can get caught up in the minutiae of training and lose focus on the big picture. But in this case breathing is the basis for everything we do. It provides feedback as to the state of our nervous system, the effectivenss of our gas exchange and whether we are leaving anything on the table during athletic performance.
But it’s more than that.
Because 20, 30 or 40 years ago we didn’t sit and drive as much as do today. And we didn’t specialize in one sport or activity as much as we see going on today. And maybe we lived simpler lives and didn’t carry all of the stress that we do now in 2013.
So we would therefore expect there to be differences in our posture, our mobility, the type and severity of the injuries we suffer as well as how much stress we are under.
As a result there would be benefits to ensuring that we are breathing properly. In fact below are 6 Benefits of Proper Diaphragmatic Breathing.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Benefit #1 – Better Gas Exchange
Instead of breathing maybe we should say respiration because with every breath we take in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. If we repsire, as many people do thoracically, we see the shoulders rise up towards the ears and the neck and traps contract.
***quick aside…The new Twilight movie involves the main character Bella getting used to her new existence as a vampire. She is coached by the other vampires to appear to look human by ensuring her shoulders rise and fall every so often to indicate breathing. If you see someone whose shoulders aren’t doing this they are probably a vampire. Or they read this blog post.***
When we breath diaphragmatically we are able to access the lower parts of the lungs which are 7 times more productive in gas exchange than the upper parts of the lungs. (West 2000)
Diaphragmatic Breathing Benefit #2 – Better Waste Elimination
Remember the last time you had the flu? It doesn’t matter if it was a 26 oz type or the regular variety. As you were praying to the porcelain god did you notice what type of breathing you were using? Of course you did! And you probably made a long journal entry about it later.
But besides ridding your body of the influenza virus or Friday night’s libations there is benefit to breathing with your diaphragm when you want to eliminate wastes from the body. Further the lymphatic system helps remove wastes from the body but needs help from our muscles to do this. Contractions of the diaphragm, through proper breathing, stimulates the lymph nodes and facilitates lymphatic drainage.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Benefit #3 – Better for Calming
Imagine someone jumping out from hiding to scare you. What happens to your breathing? To your posture? To your stress level? To your blood pressure? To our digestion?
Breathing diaphragmatically helps shift the balance from a state of fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system) to one of rest and digest (parasympathetic NS).
How does this happen? Well the contractions of the diaphragm stimulate the vagus nerve which plays a big role with respect to the parasympathetic NS. This helps shift us from a state of stress to one of calm.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Benefit #4 – Better Sleep
Many of us would benefit from improved sleep. And for some the lack of quality sleep is not related to going to bed early enough. Instead it may be related to everything we are trying to resolve in our minds as soon as our head touches the pillow.
If we breath through our chest we are shifting the balance to the fight or flight response. How effective do you think we will be at being able to relax and drift off to a deep slumber? Probably not very well. How is this going to relate to our weight loss efforts, our weight training workouts and our next athletic competition?
Diaphragmatic Breathing Benefit #5 – Better Movement
Mike Boyle is credited with coming up with the joint by joint approach to training. What this means is that from the ground up the various joints in the body will either have primarily a stability or a mobility function. It’s not an ‘either-or’ type of scenario but a predominance to one or the other. For example the knee joint has some mobility but it is primarily a joint of stability.
Now with disordered breathing, such as chest breathing, we can see these associations become impaired. With chest breathing there is increased activity of the upper traps. Since the upper traps are over stimulated, and the lower traps under stimulated, we may see dysfunction as it relates to the shoulder and scapula.
In the same way if we are breathing thoracically we are not stimiulating the musculature of the hips as much. Compound this with too much sitting and we can see how it can very difficult for a sedentary, desk jockey, chest breather to squat deeply.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Benefit #6 – Better Athletic Performance
I’ve already mentioned that diaphragmatic breathing facilitates enhanced gas exchange. If you are doing a better job of getting oxygen to working muscles while eliminating wastes you will have a definite advantage over your opponent.
And I’ve also just mentioned how proper breathing may help with mobility allowing an athlete to not only to make plays but also minimize injury.
Now think about all the times in a game where focus and concentration matter. Picture a basketball player at the free throw line to win the game. Or standing over an 8 foot put to win a golf tournament. Or making a field goal in overtime to go to the Super Bowl.
Every sport has a time when your focus and concentration needs to be maximal. Diaphragmatic breathing helps calm the nerves, align the body and fosters proper movement to allow for success.
Regardless of whether your goal is rehab, weight loss or sports performance take some time to see how diaphragmatic breathing can benefit you.
West JB. Respiratory physiology: the essentials. 6th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins; 2000.