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This month’s screen involves breathing.  Now before you read any further, go stand in front of the mirror and take a deep breath.  What did you see?  Did your shoulders and elevate and your neck tense up, or did your shoulders and neck stay relaxed?  Did you stomach come in or did it expand out when you inhaled? Many people fail to breathe optimally.  Natural and efficient breathing requires us to use our diaphragm muscle.

When we inhale the diaphragm should contract and lower into the abdomen, slightly expanding our bellies from the downward pressure as the lungs fill with air (diaphragmatic or “belly” breathing).  The shoulders and neck should stay relaxed.  Unfortunately, many people do the opposite.  They rely on their neck and shoulder muscles to help assist with breathing and they sometimes even bring their stomachs in on the inhale (chest breathing).  When you breathe this way you aren’t using your diaphragm correctly.  Due to the incorrect breathing, many people get sore and tight through their neck and shoulders.

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What’s more, people with chronic low back pain were shown to have poor function of their diaphragm.  When you breathe properly, your diaphragm contracts and increases the pressure in your abdomen.  This increased pressure actually helps support the front of your spine.

One way to help encourage deeper breathing is to breath more often with your nose.  Nose breathing allows you to breathe deeper with your diaphragm. When you breathe into your belly, your abdomen should expand in 360 degrees.  Imagine pushing your waistband out in all directions.  To get started breathing more efficiently, try the “crocodile breath” exercise explained below.

Crocodile Breath

Crocodile breath is a yoga exercise or technique for teaching and training diaphragmatic breathing.

crocodileStart by laying face down with your forehead on the back of your hands. This is to make sure your neck is in alignment with the rest of your spine. Next, you will breathe in through your nose and deep into your “belly” – when you do this correctly you will feel your stomach push out into the ground and your obliques will push out to the sides as well. You should feel that your lower back may even rise and fall with your inhale and exhale. Once you have a comfortable inhale you simply exhale and begin again.

Do not be in a rush. Let your breathing come at a natural pace and be sure to feel the stomach push out into the floor. Perform the “Crocodile Breath” for 5 minutes a day. This exercise will gently mobilize your thoracic spine and ease away muscular tension. When your thoracic spine can move and function better, so will your shoulders and low back.

Download Functional Screen Series: Screen Two – Diaphragmatic Breathing