Can’t Breathe Properly? Fix It In Just 120 Seconds!

Are you in a constant state of stress? With everything that has been happening in the world right now, I cannot blame you. Several things can trigger stress, such as sudden changes in your environment, feeling pressure, and anxiety. There is such a thing as ‘good’ stress, which can help us when trying to meet deadlines, or when our body acts on instinct when we are in danger. However, too much stress can be quite draining emotionally and physically. One physical aspect it triggers significantly is our breathing.

Breathing is usually an involuntary act, which means that your body does it even without conscious effort. This is important because our entire body needs oxygen to function properly. Proper breathing has multiple benefits such as mental clarity, better cognition, improved posture, helps the quality of our sleep and even aid in proper digestion.

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But when our body is experiencing stress, it hinders our effective breathing. Everyone experiences stress occasionally, so when that happens, we will need to work on our conscious breathing. This requires the use of the cortex of the brain. Stimulating the motor cortex helps the brain stem to work with up and down regulators to improve things such as posture, pain regulation and overall oxygen efficiency.

Two Breathing Techniques

To help with that, I recommend using your diaphragm when breathing. This is also called belly breathing. I have two techniques for you to practice being able to get a feel for diaphragmatic breathing.

  1. Lie face up, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.
  2. Place a book of your choice on your belly.
  3. Breathe in deeply and visualize the muscles of your lower regions of your thorax activating whilst taking the air in through the nose.
  4. Exhale through the mouth. Repeat this process at least ten times.

You should be able to see the book on your belly rise and down as you use your diaphragm to breathe.  However, if you are still having trouble, I will share with you another technique which involves locking down your upper ribcage. Doing so will restrict the top end of the breathing cycle and will consequently work the lower end of the breathing cycle. To do this technique, you will begin as you did the with the first exercise, lying face up with the knees bent and feet flat on the ground.

  1. From this position, take one hand and place it underneath your buttocks.
  2. Then, take the opposite hand, reach across your chest and wrap it halfway down your upper arm.
  3. Again mindfully taking each breathe in through your nose.
  4. Exhale through the mouth. Repeat this exercise ten times.

Both techniques are truly helpful to stimulate oxygen throughout the body. I ask my patients to do this each morning when they wake up or whenever they are feeling stressed and have a place they can stop for 2 minutes. Firstly I make sure they have stimulated their neuro lymphatic points aka Chapmans Reflexes, you can literally do this anywhere at all.

For a better view of this exercise, have a look at this Youtube video.

Paula Nutting making a demo of stretching exercises for the upper back

Improve Your Breathing and Upper Back using these Stretches!

How life has changed since 2019!!

We see lack of movement caused by so many different things now. The usual sedentary lifestyle from poor motivation, restrictions in where and how to get exercise  AS WELL AS the increase in working from home. This has all amassed to increases in sitting, both on the computer and then in front of the television.

The outcome is restriction and stiffness in the full spine and specifically poor thoracic spine mobility.

We also need to consider those people who have recently experienced violent trauma as which includes motor vehicle accidents, bad falls, sporting injuries etc. These insults also induce pain and immobility on our thoracic vertebrae.

Other precursors to a stiff and painful thoracic spine include people suffering from Osteoporosis in jobs requiring strenuous lifting, patients with a history of cancer, drug abuse, HIV, or partial or complete suppression of the immune response/prolonged use of corticosteroids. These are just a few of those I see in my clinic complaining of “a bad upper back”.

Muscles Involved

The muscles involved in Thoracic Rotations are:

During rotation, the external oblique (EO), rectus abdominis (RA) and lumbar multifidus (MF) muscles act contralaterally, whereas the latissimus dorsi (LD), internal oblique (IO), and transversus abdominis (TrA) muscle act ipsilaterally3,4,5,6). Trunk rotation is a motion involving both thoracic and lumbar vertebrae.1

Some of the most commonly known treatments for pain in the thoracic region include stretching, massage, and some other counter (OTC) medicines.  Others, also try heat and/or cold therapy which helps lessen the muscle pain and stiffness in the short term but have little evidence around the long-term benefits.

So what can YOU do to help if you have a stiff, painful back? If you struggle to get up in the morning, find it difficult to twist to look over your shoulder when driving or simply turning in seated or standing positions.

Here is a quick exercise you can do just about anywhere to help relieve this tension and limited thoracic rotations. Stretch twists of the torso can help improve rib mobility, muscle restrictions, and ultimately diaphragm integrity which is probably the biggest benefit when we consider the need for blood enriched with oxygen.

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Twist and Stretch Exercise

I want to offer you the feeling of length/balance of the spinal segments, feeling taller or straighter, and the overall state of postural strength of the core.  This is also a very good practice to strengthen your Diaphragm & Upper Torso.

  1. In the first sequence, put one hand underneath your leg locking your sit bones securely onto the table or chair, while your other hand is across your body and grabbing the chair to be able to start you on your way to twisting your spine.
  1. Twist as far as you can go and then try to return to the midline using the muscles of your trunk but use that second hand to hold on and resist.
  1. Hold that position for about 10 seconds and return back to the centre position so your back is in neutral.
  1. Take a deep cleansing breath in/out and then relax.
  1. In the second sequence, repeat the twist to as far as you can turn the spine. Then include a head/neck turn in the same direction to apply a small amount of overpressure to the stretch.
  1. Hold this position for 10 seconds, return to centre and take another full breath in and out.
  1. The third and the most important of the three sequences are including ocular or eye movement. This encourages the motor cortex to add more rotation via the descending pathways and usually assists in further changes in the nervous system along with the muscles and fascia.
  1. Rotate both the head and body as far as possible and hold again for 10 seconds.
  1. Now, make your eyes look as far around as you can possibly can and add a bit more stretch.

Watch this 2-minute video for a more visual presentation of this Twisting Exercise.

1 Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine [Relationship between the spinal range of motion and trunk muscle activity during trunk rotation]

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