Sharing your dreams and work with others can be a little (okay a lot) scary. After months of researching, planning, and creating my business, pressing that “post” button on facebook as the start to announcing my intentions was surprisingly difficult. It is hard not to get caught up in thoughts of whether you are good enough, what people will say, or having to explain to people what happened if you completely fall on your face. As soon as I publicly announced that I am starting on this new venture, I immediately had to close my computer and busy myself with doing the dishes to distract myself from the stress and fear I was feeling. I felt the familiar gripping sensation of anxiety in my chest and had to continually remind myself to take a full breath and relax the tension I felt creeping in to my neck and shoulders.
Which takes me here. I plan to maintain an online presence so that beyond just working with people in person, I can provide value to people near and far who are trying to live their fullest, healthiest lives. Just like taking the first step in learning about how to open my own practice, I again struggled with figuring out where to even start in writing a blog post. So why not start with the basics? BREATHING! We all breathe, not all of us breathe well, and improving your breath can have a huge impact on your emotional and physical states.
Well then, how should you breathe? I’m glad you asked!
But first, let me complicate it again and say “It depends.” Different breathing patterns are useful in different situations. For example, if you are diving under water, by all means hold your breath! Or, if you are purely trying to relax during meditation or before going to bed, taking big belly breaths or diaphragmatic breathing can be amazing.
For today’s purposes though, lets focus on breathing during exercise or physical exertion. During these times, you don’t necessarily want to breathe just into the upper chest. This tends to overwork the muscles in your neck and shoulders and can lead to lasting tension in this area, stress, and even headaches. You also don’t want to only practice belly breathing because if you fully expand through your low belly, you can’t properly activate the important muscles including your abdominals that help stabilize your spine and body.
Instead, when you inhale, think of expanding 3-dimensionally through your low rib cage like you are filling up a balloon in this area. This still allows you to bring air into the low lobes of the lungs to efficiently oxygenate your blood, but without compromising your core connection. Oftentimes it is helpful to focus on opening through the sides and back of your ribs as these areas can be underutilized and so that you can keep your abs active in the front of your body. When you exhale, everything simply draws toward the center of your body, helping to develop an even stronger muscular contraction.
Now, when should you breathe?
There are a few different guidelines you can follow. First, since exhaling can help deepen the core activation, you can consider exhaling during the main exertion in an exercise. For example, if you are performing biceps curls, you would exhale as you bend your elbow to curl the weight up, and inhale as you release your arm back down. Anytime you are keeping a neutral spine, this is a good rule to follow.
If instead you are moving your spine either into flexion (rounding) or extension (arching), you can follow a different pattern. Try this: place your hands on your low ribs while you round and arch your back a few times. You should notice that as you extend the spine, your ribs naturally open up and out a bit, and as you flex the spine, they close in and down. Since our breath also causes this motion with the ribs, opening as you inhale and drawing in as you exhale, we can combine these two together. So, if you are arching through the spine, inhaling might be a good option, and if you are rounding the spine, you might choose to exhale.
These guidelines for when to breathe are just that, they are not set in stone rules. There might be reasons that you would flip or change the breathing pattern, or if you are focusing on another aspect of your exercise and it is just too much to think about, just try to keep breathing in general.
I have definitely been breathing through this transition time in my life and am so thankful to have been flooded with support and kind words in the last few days. I hope that you too can take a moment today to breathe in the positive, exhale the negative, and be thankful that we are all here breathing in this world together.