Just Breathe

Take a breath. 

Go ahead. 

Did you do it?

I hope so. 

If you’re like most of us when asked to “take a breath” you likely inhaled. But why?  According to ancient Chinese text the symbol for breath actually places exhalation in front of inhalation!

Now, take a breath again, this time focusing on exhaling for as long and as evenly as you can – when you feel the urge to breathe, do so through the nose and let the inhale feel completely passive before again focusing on prolonged even exhalation. 

Did you do it?  I hope so!

For many of us, and our clients this is a difficult task!  We have been taught to over breathe and are constantly nagged with the feeling that we need to take in more and more oxygen to maintain our bodily functions – but chances are you have plenty of oxygen already “saturated” within your body. This is why for most of us if we ever remember getting that little clip on our finger at the doctor’s office that our oxygen levels likely read somewhere in the area of 99%!

Now the goal is not to get to 100, although for most of us this comes as a surprise. The goal is to make the most of the oxygen we have and do so by not releasing too much carbon dioxide too quickly.  That’s right, when we allow carbon dioxide to safely increase in our bodies it actually serves as a marker for our blood and other tissues to release oxygen to areas that need it most. 

So how do we get better at this?  Prolong our exhale!  One of our favorite tools to enhance this practice is through the use of the voice. 

Phonation is the production of sound from oscillation of the vocal cords and resonance of the vocal tract.  People with breathing pattern disorders often suffer from breathlessness during prolonged speaking or singing, loss of voice, and throat discomfort and pain.  This is an important consideration and assessment to consider as phonation requires good coordination of breathing with numerous muscles of the chest, neck and thorax. 

Which nerve do you think innervates numerous muscles around the throat and vocal chord?  The famous vagus nerve – the nerve in our bodies most associated with parasympathetic function. No wonder why when we get all “choked up” with emotions we also have a hard time speaking!

When our diaphragm is not functioning with optimal effectiveness this will typically result in lowered inspiratory volume – which may also alter voice production. This reduction in lung recoiling typically results in compensation of posture or abdominal tensioning to make up for the alteration of pressure. 

Check out the video for how you can start using your voice to train exhalation, engage the diaphragm more effectively and allow for greater lung recoiling and range of motion for yourself and your clients!

Reference: Chaitow, L. “Recognizing and Treating Breathing Disorders” (2014) pg 203-213

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