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Episode 219: Correcting Improper Breathing Patterns

Video Highlights

- Breathing is an automatic activity.
- Identifying "paradoxical" breathing.
- Correcting improper breathing patterns.

Today we’re going to take a quick look at one of the most fundamental breathing exercises and show you how to do it, all day every day.

I’m sitting in a chair for a reason, I’m not just being lazy. What I want to talk to you about today is, again, one of our most basic respiration or breathing drills.

When you evaluate people and how they breathe one of the things you have to remember is that we all breathe somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 times a day, generally speaking, which means if you’re doing it incorrectly there can be a pretty long term problem with that.

One of the things we’re always looking for is what we call basic respiratory patterns.

The number one issue that we’re always looking to notice and then hopefully retrain is what is called upper chest breathing.

Now, upper chest breathing is often very easy to see, you have someone and you say, take a deep breath in and watch my shoulders and neck. They go … Take a deep breath … What you’re seeing is my shoulders are elevating, my neck is getting tight in order to try to help me take a deep breath.

That is actually called paradoxical breathing because we are only supposed to use these muscles for breathing when we’re taking very deep, large breaths in and out. However, through injury, through a lot of other issues that can arise many people that we work with demonstrate this particular improper breathing pattern.

The real question is, what do you we do about it because breathing is pretty much unconscious? We do it all the time, we don’t think about it. We’re like, ah, I’m surviving. In order for us to really work on this we need to use some form of biofeedback. In general, the easiest place to do that is at work or in a chair that has some kind of armrest.

Basically, all that we need to do to really work on our breathing is get comfortably upright in the chair, sit up nice and tall and now I normally have my clients face their thumbs to the ceiling to get a little bit of external rotation just to help you with your shoulder positioning.

Now, all that you have to do in order to breathe well is push your elbows into the chair. When we push our elbows down we’re now going to take a breath in through the nose, out through the mouth, and the addition of the order your brain’s giving the command to keep your elbows down, in essence, causes you to also keep your shoulders down.

Woman in lime green jacket with her eyes closed holding her arms bent in front of her as if helping her visualize breathing in.

Now, as you start to practice this basically it’s one of these exercises that you have to do throughout the day but I said you could do this one all day every day because most people that I work with that work in offices they’re always in chair and the chairs have armrests.

What you can do, you schedule about every five minutes, a little alarm goes off, do one to two breaths, nice and deep, inhale through the nose, exhale through pursed lips. Throughout that exercise continue to emphasize a light pressure down into the armrest.

That is one of the fastest ways that I’ve found to help you retrain this breathing pattern.

Now, normally the way that I have my clients do it is they do two resisted, so now use the biofeedback. I’ve used the feedback from the chair to tell my brain, hey, relax the shoulders. You then want to follow that with two more breaths but not pressing down but trying to maintain the same pattern.

Throughout the day what you’re doing is you’re doing biofeedback and practice without, biofeedback and practice without. Very quickly, in doing that, you can start to re-pattern that upper chest breathing issue, find yourself bringing a little bit lower into the abdomen and often what you’ll see is tremendous improvements in neck issues, headaches, shoulder issues, all kinds of stuff just from fixing that one thing.

One question that usually comes up when we do this kind of exercise is people say, well, my armrests are too low.

So in this particular set, with the chair in this position, I can’t really use my elbows, I’d have to use my forearms. If that’s you, you have a couple of options.

Number one, you can scoot really close to the table, put your elbows on the table or desk and press down there.

Another simple option is to simply take your hands, place them high on your own thighs, make sure you’ve in a good position and press down with your hands but you also want to think about bringing the elbows down toward the floor. Same thing, and you can again take that biofeedback with you everywhere as long as you take your legs with you.

Like I said, don’t be worried too much about the chair set up or the desk set up.

There are always options as long as you understand the idea is that we have to use the brain to retrain our pattern and using some kind of outside biofeedback and outside motor command will help your brain figure out the correct breathing style very, very quickly.

If you have any questions about this let me know, otherwise good luck and give it a shot.

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