Breathing should involve the whole body, particularly the abdominal and thoracic cavities, but it is not uncommon for people, especially with chronic health issues, to not breathe efficiently using the correct body mechanics, often using some parts of the body whilst not using others.
The diaphragm, situated between the thoracic and abdominal cavities, is a key structure involved in breathing. It has connections internally through the fascia above the base of the skull and can influence head and neck function (and help clear the mind and head). It has a link to the neck through its nerve supply. When functioning efficiently, it helps promote healthy spinal and organ movement and the flow of lymphatic/fluid from/to all areas of the body.
It is your internal personal masseur for your internal organs because when it ascends and descends throughout its range, it supports and massages structures above and below, contributing to healthy heart, lung and digestive function and also through pressure gradients between the thoracic cage and abdomen and (when coordinated with synchronous sacral rocking) will also influence urinary and reproductive organ function. If the diaphragm moves several centimeters (and contributes also to a few millimeters of sacral rocking movement) with every breath, and you breathe 12-20 times a minute, then over a whole day, consider how much motion it contributes to healthy organ function. Consider the negative effects if this motion is not there due to incorrect breathing mechanics.
Exercise: Full Body Breath.
1) Lie on your back with knees and hips flexed and resting comfortably on the floor. Push the abdominal area out and in several times to activate this area. Then breathe in to the abdominal area as you push it out and relax the abdomen (drawing in to spine on the out breath).
2) Next, squeeze the pelvic floor and relax several times until you feel this area activating. Sometimes this is difficult and so you can try squeezing the buttocks or thighs together, anything to get something happening and then gradually bring the contraction more specifically to the tip of the coccyx. Then, contract and lift the tip of the tail bone towards the roof with the base of the tail bone and pelvis moving (rolling) backwards towards the floor and flattening (pressing) the lumbar spine segment by segment, from below up, into the floor (a few millimeters is enough – just enough to engage the correct action). Then coil and breathe in as if breathing into the low back and uncoil on the out breath letting the low back arch once again.
3) Then add the abdominal and lumbo-pelvic rolling movements together. Coil, push your stomach out and flatten the lumbar spine all together as you breathe in. Sometimes it’s easier initially to create the mechanical space and get everything in position first and then breathe in to fill the space, and then relax everything as you breathe out. The softer you breathe, the better, as it allows more control/awareness. It also avoids you getting light headed. It should be a soft natural breath – not forced. Eventually the natural breathing moves the body, not the other way around. However with stress, trauma or poor posture, this natural mechanism may be lost and so, for re-training, we can do it the other way around, correcting and coordinating the mechanics to encourage a correct filling of breath.
4) The final step is to breathe in as if filling a glass from bottom to top (front, back, sides and from below up) moving the breath and awareness from the pelvis, along the spine through the lumbar, into the thoracic spine (expanding the back/abdomen, lower ribs, middle ribs then upper ribs) right up to the neck. The rib cage should expand front back and sides and at the end of the breath, the abdomen braces to stabilize the lower ribs and the chest bone lifts a little towards the chin. It should feel as if the whole body is filling with breath, even though air only fills the lungs, physically speaking. We then empty the other way around (for this particular exercise) – top to bottom.
This awareness of how the breath flows helps you to identify tight spots (i.e. where the normal movements are NOT happening). This then allows you to correct restrictions as you go by breathing through and not around them. You should also breathe to a steady rhythm – for example, breathe in, 2, 3, 4, hold, 2 at the top, out 2, 3, 4, hold 2 at the bottom end of the body. We can then slow the breath down as needed (8 in & out/hold 4, 10/5, etc).
5) A further step could then be to do alternate nostril breathing from the bottom of the spine to the top (i.e. to the nose) with one nostril, holding and then emptying from top to bottom through the other nostril and holding a couple of seconds and then repeating the other side. Although this may be difficult, particularly if someone has a cold or flu, it can help to clear the nose. If you can’t physically breathe through the nose the important thing to do is think/imagine it (and you can use the mouth a little simultaneously for support until the nose clears). After a while the thinking of the correct pathway creates and channel and the breath starts to follow.
Note: If you should feel light headed or dizzy when performing this exercise, you may be working too hard. Please, stop and rest and consult your practitioner to make sure everything is performed correctly and is appropriate for you.
Also, once learned you can use this breath to enhance the effect of any stretch you may do. Holding the correct posture, with the correct awareness, we can use the correct breath to open up the body from the inside out until the body region involved relaxes and the breath (and posture) becomes easier as a whole.