Do you suffer from upper back and neck tension, regular headaches or tingling in your fingers? Do you feel like you have difficulty taking deep breaths?
This could be for you.
The diaphragm is a large muscle located in the middle of the chest. It separates the lungs and heart above it, from the rest of the organs below. Its main function is respiratory - when we breathe in it contracts, moving down, and when we breathe out it relaxes, moving back up.
When we are physically healthy and mentally at peace the movement of the diaphragm is slow and ample, properly oxygenating the body. When we feel stressed however, the first thing we change is our breathing rhythm. It is a physiological reflex connected to the fight or flight response. We materialise the worries and thoughts in our minds by taking shorter and faster breaths, reducing the movement of the diaphragm.
This causes the secondary respiratory muscles up in the neck to compensate the lack of movement below. Since these smaller muscles are not intended to assure such a heavy duty they rapidly begin to fatigue creating a general feeling of tension in the neck and shoulders. Over time such tension can lead to more acute pain, headaches, migraines and even lead to pain or tingling in the fingers.
The reason behind this is that by being overworked the neck muscles tighten up and eventually compress the nerves that branch out from the cervical spine. Depending on the nerve being pinched different regions may be affected. Head, neck, shoulders, arms, hands…
This is why taking our breathing into consideration to properly oxygenate the body by soliciting the appropriate muscles is absolutely fundamental.
What is considered to be "the right" way to breathe is abdominal breathing or low breathing, meaning we accentuate the movement of the diaphragm and force all the organs below to move in accordance with it rather than chest or high breathing that solicits the neck muscles.
Today’s tip is consequently on how to breath properly and deeply with the diaphragm.
Sit straight without touching the backrest of your chair.
Push the top of your head upwards towards the ceiling to grow your entire upper body.
Place one hand on your stomach and one on the chest.
While pushing your head upwards towards the ceiling, blow out (exhale), sucking your stomach in as you empty your lungs.
Maintaining your straight posture, let the air flow naturally back into your lungs allowing the stomach to blow outwards as you inhale.
Once the stomach is fully blown outwards, exhale pulling the stomach inwards once again.
Repeat this process attempting to take deep breaths every time.
1. Exhale - suck stomach inwards 2. Inhale: allow stomach to bloat naturally
* The hand on your stomach should move in and out, following the movement of your stomach (and diaphragm), while the hand on your chest should not move at all as we try to avoid chest respiration associated with the neck muscles.
** Usually we tend to inhale actively and exhale passively, however in order to accentuate the efficiency of this exercise it is important to do the contrary - exhale actively meaning actually blowing out the air, and inhale passively meaning simply letting the air flow back into the empty lungs and allowing the stomach to bloat.
We hope you have found this article useful and that it helps you improve your breathing and alleviate your upper body tensions.
Jonathan & Sarah