Don't Forget to Breathe, Pt. 2

Building on Part One, today we are going to look in greater detail at the process of breathing and the specific results of breath work, with an exercise you can do in this moment. 

I want you to form a more concrete understanding of your body regarding the process of breathing:

The Process of Breathing

1. Breathing Starts at the Centre

Breathing is a whole body activity, requiring the muscles of the lower body to occur. The lungs cannot fill themselves but require the action of the diaphragm.

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle creating a "floor" in the thorax, the chest area containing the lungs and heart. Fibres in the diaphragm connect to the ribs and into the pelvis, radiating down into the abdomen. 

The diaphragm contracts and the intercostal muscles (muscles in between the ribs) pull the rib cage upward. In a closed space, an increase in volume results in a decrease in gas pressure (Boyle's Law). This creates an air pressure differential and air rushes into the lungs, the abdominal muscles relax. The internal organs move downward and outward.


2. Pathways


Air usually enters the body through the nose. The hairs and mucus in the nose filter, warm, and moisten the air before it enters the airway. Whether inhaling through the mouth or nose, the air travels to the pharynx, past the larynx (the "voice box"), and into the trachea. The trachea branches into the bronchus, the air traveling through branches that become smaller and more numerous until it travels through the respiratory bronchioles, the alveolar ducts and finally, into dead ends - the alveoli.


3. Cellular Respiration

Upon inhalation, the chest wall moves away from the lungs and the elastic alveoli which exert pressure back inward (like a spring ready to recoil). The wall of each alveolus is a single cell thick. Capillaries (tiny blood vessels) exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. This exchange is called cellular respiration in the lungs.





4. Exhalation

The diaphragm relaxes and the transverse abdominis (deep abdominal muscles) contract. The ribs release in toward the centre of the body. This drop in volume increases the air pressure in the lungs and air rushes outward. The transverse abdominis controls the rate of exhalation, allowing for speaking or singing longer phrases. The viscera (internal organs) move inward and upward to their original position.  

In this way a dance is created, within the body and between the inner and outer world, the organs are massaged, muscles work in harmony.

Many of my clients come to me with the habit of not engaging their diaphragms fully. Typically, their breathing is shallow or involves a lot of unnecessary muscle tension.


When To Tune In To The Breath



  1. When you feel exhausted, breath work will help you to feel energised. Studies suggest it will also increase insulin and reduces glycemia. Try some deep, energising breaths if you experience a late afternoon energy slump.

  2. When you’re feeling disconnected from yourself, breath will help to put you in touch with both your proprioceptive self and emotional states.

  3. When you’re feeling tense or under pressure, engaging in the rhythm of the breath allows you to release unwanted tensions. It engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body's ability to rest and relax. Inhale, exhale, pause. 

  4. When you are healing from exercise or an illness or injury, breath to accelerate healing. Oxygen reaches the area that has been injured.  Studies indicate that diaphragmatic breathing after exhaustive exercise results in an increase in antioxidant defense status, a decrease in cortisol (the hormone associated with stress) and an increase in melatonin (a hormone associated with relaxation).

  5. When you want more Mobility, breath creates flow in your body.

  6. When you want more Stability, breath increases your sensitivity to the connection within the body, and between your body and the ground.

  7. When you want to connect to and communicate with another person, attune to their breath pattern - give it a try and see what results!



A Breathing Exercise To Practice On Your Own

This breathing exercise will help to calm a stressed nervous system.

Try it sitting, standing, or lying down.

  1. Exhale completely through your mouth, blow out all the air.
  2. Inhale through your nose while mentally counting to four.
  3. Hold your breath while mentally counting to seven.
  4. Blow out all the air, mentally counting to eight.
  5. This is one breath. Repeat the cycle three more times.
  6. Breath quietly without controlling the breath.

Further Reading

Belly Breathing

Making Connections: Total Body Integration Through Bartenieff Fundamentals


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