The Importance of Breathing Easy
Improving our posture would help that nagging neck pain we get after being hunched over the computer all day at work, but improving the way we breathe can also help. When we get stressed because of a work deadline or some psychological insecurity, the primitive part of the brain reacts with the same “fight-or-flight” response as if faced with a predator.
The immediate result of chronic stress is the startle response. The chest collapses, the head juts forward and the shoulders tense and raise up to create a smaller target and protect our vital parts. If we are chronically exposed to excessive stress, our bodies become stuck in these survival threat patterns, which can lead to muscular imbalance, tissue strain and chronic pain.
Breathing is the one involuntarily action that can also be controlled voluntarily. This makes it a great access point into the ancient part of our nervous system that controls all of our involuntary reflexes and processes—the autonomic nervous system.
Research shows that the way we breathe has a tremendous effect on the state of the body, and that our impressions of the world around us are drawn from our current physiological state. We may feel anxious or afraid because we are breathing quickly and shallowly, but when we are able to breathe deeply and slowly, we tend to feel relaxed and at ease.
When feeling stressed or chronic neck or back pain flares up, try finding a quiet place to work with the breath for five or 10 minutes. Start by inhaling deeply and letting the ribcage inflate like a balloon. Allow the belly to expand evenly on all sides, and then allow the chest to follow. Resist the urge to get the neck muscles involved. Aim for a three-second-long inhale and a six-second-long exhale. This rhythm is important because it encourages relaxation by downregulating the function of the autonomic nervous system. Take this time to focus on the breath and notice the feeling. Don’t try to analyze, just observe. Making this a daily practice is sure to yield some incredible results.
Dan Vidal is a Neurosomatic massage therapist who specializes in posturology, biomechanics and pain treatment. He is the owner of Paragon Pain Solutions, in Mt. Airy and is hosting a workshop on Apr. 30, The Mechanics of the Breath. For more information call 267-415-6003.