In order to understand how the function of the diaphragm and respiratory muscles impact our ability to exercise, we must first examine the anatomy….
There are 3 groups of respiratory muscles.
The rib cage
The abdominal muscles.
When the diaphragm contracts, it expands the abdomen and lower ribs. When the rib cage muscles contract (intercostal and scalene neck muscles) they act on the upper ribs and are involved in both inspiration and expiration. The abdominal muscles act on the abdomen and lower ribs and are predominately used for expiration.
During exercise, if one muscle group is contracting alone, or is more dominant compared to the other muscles, the efficiency of breathing will be affected.
Inefficient breathing = greater loss of oxygen = quicker fatigue = greater perception of effort. A highly coordinated recruitment of the 3 respiratory muscles is needed for efficient breathing.
High levels of respiratory muscle work during exercise can lead to peripheral fatigue which intensifies your perfection of effort.
The demand for blood flow to the muscles during exercise means supply has to be divided among skeletal muscles during exercise involving the whole body.
The stronger and more efficient the diaphragm is, the more efficiently the process of inspiration and expiration works in the body, regardless of additional stress and stimuli. It will also help increase the capacity of the respiratory system and will result in the delivery of more oxygen to the muscles and faster, delaying the onset of fatigue.
The Problem with Shallow Breathing
One of the drawbacks of breathing automatically is that you probably can’t tell when something changes in your breathing pattern. Factors such as consistent stress, smoking and lung problems and injuries can cause shallow breathing, meaning you inhale and exhale less. This is very common people who deal with a lot of stress, but it’s also common in people who have trouble getting oxygen, such as smokers or those who suffer from lung disease.
When you are taking more shallow, frequent breaths, it means that you are not fully using your diaphragm to breathe in or ab muscles to breathe out. In order to strengthen these muscles, you must push them to the max by breathing fully in and out.
Breathing under load – when lifting weights
The real goal with “breathing” in weightlifting is to stabilize your spine and core. When you suck air into and expand your belly and hold it you are generating intro-abdominal pressure, a sort of internal cushion. This pressure mechanically cushions the spine and increases tension throughout your body to prepare it for heavy loads – otherwise known as ‘bracing the core’.
In exercises like dead-lifting and squatting its crucial to keep a tense torso for safely and maintenance of good form.
To inhale: Right before you descend, take a deep breath to fill your belly, then drop down. You should hold your breath throughout the descent, and feel the pressure and tension within your abdominal area, even as you start to come back up.
To exhale: hold your breath until you work past the most difficult part of your lift and forcefully exhale to finish strongly. If it feels more instinctive to hold your breathing throughout the movement that is ok, work with that.
The most important thing to do is treat every rep as an individual cycle: set up, breathe, hold, exhale and repeat.
SO HOW DOES PROPER BREATHING RELAX THE MIND, BODY & SPIRIT?
Deep breathing relieves stress and anxiety due to its physiological effect on the nervous system. Breathing slowly and mindfully activates the hypothalamus, connected to the pituitary gland in the brain, to send out neurohormones that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body. The hypothalamus links the nervous system to the endocrine system, which secretes the hormones that regulate all activities throughout the body.
3 types of breathing exercises to try:
Ujjayi Breathing Technique
While inhaling and exhaling through the nose, partially close the throat until the breath creates a soft humming sound in the back of the throat. The physical formation of the throat and vocal cords is similar to that during whispering. The sound is often described as the hum of the ocean waves or the wind moving through tree tops.
Gently smile with each breath, allowing the breath to swirl in the back of the throat before moving down into the lungs.
This breath is best used during a practice such as our Core Yoga
2. Kapalabhati Cleansing Technique (puffing breath)
The Kapalabhati pranayama is a cleansing breath technique where we focus on short voluntary exhales. This technique benefits the body in many ways: it revitalizes the respiratory, digestive and nervous systems; it tones the abdominal muscles and improves metabolism; and it helps to purges your system of all negativity, including negative thoughts, physical ailments and diseases, and even damaging habits.
Begin this exercise by sitting comfortably cross legged on a pillow on the ground, the spine straight and the wrists and hands resting on the knees. You can also sit in a chair if sitting on the ground is not comfortable, with hands resting in the lap. Breathe naturally for a few breaths and relax the physical body from head, through the shoulders and torso, and down into the legs. Then follow this process:
Inhale deeply through the nose until you’ve reached the top of the breath.
Start with short, sharp exhales through nose, while at the same time squeezing the abdomen and pulling it in toward the spine, also in short bursts.
Allow the inhalation to happen passively, without any emphasis on it.
While practicing, visualize what you are expelling from the body.
After about 20-30 seconds, inhale deeply through the nose until you’ve reached the breath’s full capacity, and exhale naturally.
Observe the calmness in the mind for about 15-20 seconds, while breathing naturally.
Repeat for 2 or 3 rounds.
3 .Single nostril breath
Sit in a comfortable position and bring your middle 3 fingers together. Block off your left nostril with the thumb and breathe out through the right. Next block off with your pinkie finger and breathe out through the left.
Complete this processes for 1-2 minutes. This is great for beginners to deep breathing or yoga breath
All 3 types of yoga breath are regularly practiced in our yoga classes daily. To find our more email us at email@example.com