Why Breathing is the Key to a Healthy Spine, Fluid Movement, and Connection to the Moment
When you watch a healthy baby breathe their little bellies rise and fall effortlessly as they kick their legs and smile. But, as adults we may have been conditioned to hold our bellies in and try to flatten our stomachs for the sake of vanity.
This conditioned response along with poor posture or chronic stress and mental tension may cause the breath to become stifled. This results in physical tension as areas of the body become restricted due to lack of oxygen and nutrient rich blood flow.
Respiratory muscles must be conditioned like any other muscle. The primary respiratory muscle is the diaphragm, which attaches to the sternum and the rib cage like a parachute and comes all the way down to the anterior portion of the lumbar spine.
Using your diaphragm to breathe fully and deeply helps to support your spine especially the lumbar spine where the diaphragm attaches. It also reduces tension around the neck and upper shoulders that occurs as a result of shallow breathing.
Breathing fully is like taking all life has to offer in and then in the next moment letting it go. Observing the breath and noticing when it’s short and stifled or full and robust is an indication of what’s going on within. Simply observing the breath is a wonderful meditation. When you are aware of the breath, observing it and finding fascination with the fact that you are alive and breathing there is no room for superfluous thoughts to arise.
Here’s a breathing exercise to try:
Please sit up tall, stack your spine, and close your eyes to tune into your breath. Feel the gentle sensation of the inflow and outflow of your breath. Without trying to control the breath simply observe the breath just as it is.
Inhale and lift your right arm up, turn the palm in to face the midline of your body so you externally rotate the arm and protract the scapula. As you exhale reach your arm to the left as you side bend. Hold here and breathe into the area under your arm pit and along your side body. With every inhale think about growing longer and on each exhale go deeper. Inhale, return to center and exhale to release the arm down. Inhale, lift your left arm up, rotate the pinky finger in towards the mid-line of your body so your palm is facing towards you. Exhale reach your arm to the right as you side bend. Hold here and breathe for a few breaths and then come back to the center and lower your arm.
Riding the Waves of Your Breath
1. Take your hands to your stomach. Keeping your shoulders relaxed down your spine breathe in and feel the stomach slightly press out into your hands. Exhale and feel the stomach retract, but avoid contracting hard and pulling the navel forcefully in towards the spine. Imagine the ocean’s waves just gently spilling over onto the sand and then returning back to the fullness of the ocean.
2. Take your hands to your low back. Inhale as you fill the back body with breathe. Feel the sides and low back gently press into your hands and retract back to the center towards your spine. It’s as if you are filling a cup with water and then emptying it back out.
3. Bring your hands to your low ribs on the side. Inhale and feel how the ribs press out into your hands and move east and west.
Exhale feel how all four corners and every space in between returns to the center.
4. Relax your hands and breathe up and down your spine filling your entire torso, neck, and skull with breath. Breathe into your chest and feel the heart rise. Breathe into your upper back between the shoulder blades as if you are expanding and growing wings sensing a lightness and ease through your back. Breathe down into your legs, all the way to your feet and feel a sense of being grounded and connected.
Thank you for breathing with me!
Here is an article of 6 breathing techniques to improve strength I wrote for Livestrong.com.