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Respiration: the BIG boss

I just love learning. If I could figure out a way to make money taking courses all the time, I think I would be in heaven. I've taken this course before so the info was not new, but you know, somehow I needed to be bonked over the head with a sledgehammer again on how we will pretty much sacrifice any other body-part to be able to breathe. We can only survive minutes without oxygen, so if holding that spine in that twisted way is going to help you breathe, even if the result is a sore back, so be it. So no matter where the pain or discomfort, it is worth making sure one is breathing properly. If not, one must figure out what is driving the improper breathing pattern.

There are a variety of reasons why breathing may be compromised, and sorting out the cause is the only way to fully resolve the breathing pattern.   A forward head posture creates breathing problems because as the head comes forward the lower jaw (mandible) gets pulled back in relation to the top teeth (maxilla), which pulls the tongue down from its resting position up on the hard palate and the top gum line. For proper diaphragmatic breathing, the top face of the tongue must be up against the roof of the mouth. Frequently along with a forward head posture is an overly rounded upper back and depressed chest, which can prevent the diaphragm from descending properly. A forward head and a rounded upper back may be due to some other underlying cause however, (ie: cervical disk issue, osteoporosis) so sometimes one has to dig deeper.

Allergies, whether airborne or from food can cause problems with respiration. Head, jaw, facial or cervical injuries may be at the root of a breathing problem. Craniofacial growth disorders caused by poor nutrition of one's parents or poor nutrition in childhood may result in a structurally narrow face, crowding of teeth, small sinuses and a small airway. Mouth breathers sometimes fall into this category if the nasal passages simply are not large enough. Parasites, drugs and too much sugar can also affect breathing rates.  Anxiety, stress, grief or other emotional issues that increase sympathetic load will put pressure on the respiratory system and increase breathing rates. Avoidance issues may stiffen the ribs reducing the bucket-handle motion that is supposed to happen with diaphragmatic breathing. 

Poor breathing patterns are frequently responsible for neck pain, because if the diaphragm is not adequately used, the thin muscles of the neck are working hard to pull up the ribcage with every breath. Ouch! And if transversus abdominis, one of the local stabilizers of the spine, is helping to force the air out with each breath in order to be able to take another breath in again quickly, it is too busy to do its main job of stabilizing the low back and pelvis. So poor breathing can result in a sore back and pelvic pain. And if the trunk is unstable, it is pretty tough to stabilize the limbs! We were given an example in class of someone who was sent to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist to fix a nose problem that was impeding breathing in order to successfully resolve a chronic achilles tendonitis.

Faster breathing rates (more than say, 16 breaths per minute) may cause a blowing off of CO2, the result being a higher blood pH, which has all kinds of consequences to the body from a chemical perspective. Reducing whatever chronic stress may be resulting in the faster breathing rate, whether emotional, nutritional, toxicological or physical would be helpful, in addition to actively learning to breathe correctly and at a slower pace.

If you are a mouth breather and wake up with a wet pillow, or if you find one or both nostrils chronically clogged, you may find an Ear Nose and Throat specialist helpful, particularly if the problem is structural. Nose mucous may also be due to allergies or food intolerances, so learning what you may be allergic or sensitive to may also be helpful. Sometimes Rolfers or other Structural Integrators can open nasal passages too. Then seek the help of a physiotherapist or Chek practitioner to help you correct your posture and breathing pattern, or in a pinch, read Breathe your way to a more mobile back.

Related Tips
Breathe your way to a more mobile back
Breathe - Reduce neck strain
Breathe - Are you a chest gripper?
Breathe - Hyperventilation increases your body's pH
Food sensitivities, digestive problems and joint pain

Chek, Paul; How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy!  Chek Institute, San Diego, CA, 2004.
Chek, Paul and Neville, Suzi Chek Level III Manual 2007
Netter, Frank Atlas of Human Anatomy, Novartis, East Hanover, NJ, 1997
Kendall F, McCreary E, Provance P Muscles Testing and Function Williams and Wilkins 1993

Copyright 2007 Vreni Gurd