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The far-reaching effects of correct breathing

Seven chakras, seven plexuses
iStock photo

Brett Jones, a top instructor for the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) asks a class, “What’s the most important thing you’ll do today?” After a pause and a few half-hearted replies, Brett says, “How about breathing?”

Besides being the most important thing you’ll do today, correct breathing is a fundamental tenet of Corrective Exercise (CE) and of exercise in general. Fundamental, in that relaxed breathing allows for learning new motor skills in the case of CE, and for optimal performance in regards to complex exercise, sports, and dance.

We spend the majority of our time outside of recreational activities, where correct breathing is no less important. Every one of the 18,000 breaths you take each day originate at the diaphragm. This makes it the main muscle of breathing, but not the body’s only diaphragm. Anatomically known as the Thoracic diaphragm, it is one of at least four that exist in the body. Its actions affect three others; Cranial, Cervical, and Pelvic.

  • Cranial - located in the skull, consists of tentorium cerebelli and falx cerebri.
  • Cervical - composed of the tongue, the muscles of the hyoid bone, and scalene muscles.
  • Thoracic Diaphragm - The most common and well-known; separates the thoracic cage from the abdomen.
  • Pelvic Diaphragm - links the sacrum to the pelvis and is essentially a large "sheet" of specific muscles

In a comprehensive paper entitled – take a deep breath – “Anatomic connections of the diaphragm: influence of respiration on the body system”, Bruno Bordoni and Emiliano Zanier state: “…the diaphragm muscle being an important crossroads for information involving the entire body. The diaphragm muscle extends from the trigeminal system [jaw area] to the pelvic floor, passing from the thoracic diaphragm to the floor of the mouth [Cervical]. Like many structures in the human body, the diaphragm muscle has more than one function, and has links throughout the body…”

An oversimple analogy would be that of a water balloon held on end. Squeeze the middle of the balloon and the water goes to opposite ends. Every part of the balloon; the surface and its contents, is affected.

Bordoni and Zanier summarize: “The diaphragm muscle should not be seen as a segment but as part of a body system.” An incredible video by Roger Fiammetti illustrates the entire concept; so well that you need not know the French in which it is presented.Yoga practitioners will recognize the seven chakras. See it here.

An optimally functioning Thoracic diaphragm initiates movement in the lesser-known, distant and seemingly unrelated diaphragms of the body. These diaphragms, in turn, stabilize and nourish their respective body parts; head, neck, and pelvis, and keep them healthy. It must logically follow that sub-optimal or dysfunctional breathing has negative effects on these distant body parts.

This is exactly the case in a majority of people. Very few of us breathe optimally. We breathe well enough to remain conscious, and even that is debatable in some, as there are various states of consciousness. “Chest breathing” is quite common, and usually comes from prolonged stress, fear, or postural problems.

In chest breathing, accessory breathing muscles, usually involving the Cervical diaphragm, are used. This sets the normal breathing pattern 180 degrees out of phase and renders the important Thoracic diaphragm inefficient and stiff. In this state, it cannot communicate properly with the body’s other diaphragms. They, in turn, propagate dysfunction in their respective areas; from headache to incontinence.

So go the far-reaching effects of correct and incorrect breathing. It seems to be in our best interest, not only for better performance, but for optimal health, to pursue better breathing habits. Not very far from this article are features of "Rapid this" and "Two weeks to that". What if, before starting some frenetic fad, you slowed down for two weeks and didn't do anything rapid; just focused on calm, relaxed breathing?

Life is possible because we breathe. Better life is possible if we breathe better.

Thanks to Gavin Broomes of "The Fascial Therapy Blog" and NCBI