Optimal breathing is breathing in through your nose with your belly coming out, then breathing out (through your mouth or nose) with your belly coming in. When we inhale, the normal pattern of abdominal wall action is such that with inhalation, the abdominal wall should relax and expand so that the diaphragm has the ability to push the organs downward. This is an essential means of creating negative pressure in the lungs to draw fresh air in with inhalation.
Tip: Watch a baby breathe – they do it right instinctively.
Most people have an inverted breathing pattern, i.e. their belly coming in when they breathe in. With an inverted breathing pattern, as a person inhales, his/her abdominals remain tight, or tighten more! This blocks the diaphragm’s ability to contract effectively, and stops the organs from being able to move downward with inhalation.
When someone has an inverted breathing pattern, there is over-recruitment of the scalene muscles in the neck, which help lift the rib cage on inhalation and other muscles, called secondary breathing muscles (such as the upper trapezius and levator scapulae) become hyperactive. This leads to a variety of problems such as cognitive, neck, jaw, digestive, eliminative and others, that are often overlooked by health professionals and can’t be effectively alleviated without restoring optimal breathing mechanics.
Paul Chek’s Common Causes of an Inverted Breathing Pattern
The “Abs Tight” Pose
Males around the world have been heavily influenced by modern bodybuilding. It is now “normal” for them to walk around everywhere with their abs flexed, particularly when their shirts are off. Young males, whose egos are still developing, can be filled with insecurities about being strong enough to stand up to other guys, and take on the “abs tight” defence posture. This is kind of like a dog raising the hair on its neck to make itself look bigger and stronger than it really is. If this tough guy pattern of abdominal bracing continues for any length of time, it becomes habituated and an inverted pattern becomes very likely. After all, if you are a tough guy, you have to be one even when you are trying to breathe!
Sexy Abs or Healthy Abs?
Women suffer less from “tough gal” syndrome, but frequently develop an inverted breathing pattern from chronically sucking in their guts to try and have that model-perfect, flat abdomen. Not only does this significantly reduce breathing efficiency, it also creates issues around menstruation. Many females dislike the natural distension of their lower abs that comes with each period. When the uterus begins to shed its lining, there is a natural inflammatory process, which leads to swelling of the uterus. Since the uterus has neurological connections to the abdominal wall, when it swells the lower abdominals are inhibited so there is more room for the swollen uterus, as well as to ensure optimal blood, oxygen and nutrient delivery to speed healing and remove waste. When females hold their abs in instead of letting the body have its natural way, an inverted breathing pattern becomes much more likely, and menstrual periods are often both prolonged and more painful.
Excessive Abdominal Isolation Training
Definitely Excessive Isolation Training!
Whether you’re male or female, we have a worldwide obsession with abdominal isolation training. This leads to excessive abdominal tone and contributes to an inverted breathing pattern disorder day in and day out.
Standing-up, put a hand on your chest and a hand on your belly. Breathe in through your nose making sure only your hand on your belly moves for the first two thirds of your in-breath. Your chest hand should only move/rise during the last third of your in-breath. As you breathe out (through mouth or nose), reverse the process making sure your belly hand moves in. Exhale completely. When you’ve finished exhaling, try just exhaling a little bit more. This will ensure a full exchange of air in your lungs. Some people really struggle with this, so continue to practice and practice and it will get easier and more automatic.
If you are having trouble doing this exercise standing up, try lying down and use a visual reference such as a block or water bottle on your belly. As you breathe in through your nose the object should rise and as you breathe out the object should lower.