'Breathing is the foundation of movement, health and well-being' - BradCliff Breathing.
We adapt and breathe in different ways to meet our body's changing needs. How we breathe when we are at rest and feel safe is different to when we feel threatened, exhausted, or have an underlying health condition. How should we breathe, and how can we achieve a feeling of calm?
When we are breathing well, we breathe through our nose, and we have an effortless, rhythmical, abdominal breathing pattern. We are able to change our breathing pattern for situations of exertion and stress, and then restore our restful breathing pattern again. Our body is able to maintain homeostasis, meaning all of our usual bodily functions are able to take place.
Notice the speed of your breath, and how much your upper chest moves as you breathe. In restful breathing we breathe between eight and 12 times per minute. Our abdomen rises and falls as we breathe through our nose, and there is slight but not particularly noticeable upper chest movement.
When we feel threatened we go into a state of high alert, our breathing rate gets faster, and our breath becomes shallow. This is known as hyperventilating, or over-breathing. If over-breathing persists without a reason, this may start a cycle of disordered breathing which affects our whole body, bio-mechanically, bio-chemically, and psychologically.
There are many triggers which lead to our breathing becoming fast and shallow. These include hot and humid environments, low blood sugar levels, caffeine and other stimulants, talking fast, ovulation and menstruation, wearing tight clothes, fluorescent lights, having a blocked nose, overthinking and emotional triggers, as well as numerous health conditions.
The way we breathe affects the way we feel
A disordered breathing pattern affects our whole body and may result in a lowered pain threshold, ribcage and spine stiffness, poor digestion, difficulty concentrating, reduced blood flow and breathlessness. Fatigue, headaches, feelings of tension, and aching in our back, neck, shoulders and arms can result from a disordered breathing pattern. If a disordered breathing pattern continues, a cycle can occur where the symptoms also become the triggers and the cycle evolves into a habit.
We will all experience moments of high alert in life, however we need to be able to reset, to a state of calm, which is where we should aim to spend the majority of our time.
Stop, drop and flop (BradCliff Breathing)
One thing we can all do right now is the BradCliff stop, drop and flop. Pause what you are doing and notice your chest, exhale and soften your shoulders and jaw, inhale through your nose and notice your belly move, flop and relax your entire body.
BradCliff Beach Pose
BradCliff Beach Pose (pictured above) facilitates relaxed abdominal breathing. Abdominal breathing through our nose is known to restore a state of whole body calm. To do BradCliff Beach Pose, start by lying down with a pillow behind your head and a pillow behind your knees. Flop your legs outward and place your hands behind your head. Quietly inhale through your nose noticing your abdomen rise. This inhale requires gentle muscular effort from your thoracic diaphragm. Exhale through your nose noticing you abdomen fall, allow this to happen with no resistance or effort. Aim for the exhale to be longer than the inhale, up to twice as long. A wheat-bag on your abdomen can provide feedback. Try diaphragmatic breathing for 5 to 20minutes today and see how you feel!
Thank you to BradCliff Breathing for their ongoing research and expertise in the world of breathing pattern disorders.
Please book a physiotherapy appointment if you are interested in more strategies to breathe well and restore a feeling of calm.
Written by Ilana Hadfield