Hopefully you were able to read parts 1 and 2, where we discussed some of the reasons why proper breathing is important. Now the rubber meets the road. Time to do something about it! Let’s get into the “how”.
We discussed a pop can analogy in part 2, describing one opened pop can and one that was closed. If you stood on them, the closed pop can would withstand significantly more weight because the inside had more pressure. We want to keep this image in mind while breathing. When this is done you will have more core stability and overall strength, which results in less muscle compensation.
Another pop can analogy can be used to demonstrate core stability. Take the same two pop cans, but this time, they are both opened. Picture a dent in the side of one can and leave the other as perfectly cylindrical around the outside. If you stepped on these cans, the can with the dent would crush much sooner than the cylindrical can. Apply this to the “core canister” of our body, the abdominopelvic cavity: you want to maintain a cylindrical core without a dent to prevent any “energy leaks” and keep it optimally strong. This can be applied to breathing, or pretty much any movement. In most instances, you don’t want to arch your lower back posteriorly or tip your pelvis anteriorly. Just think of trying to prevent a dent in your pop can. Or, keep your diaphragm and pelvic floor parallel. Both of these pop can analogies translate to increased performance and a decreased likelihood for injury. Strive to create pressure and prevent a dent in your core and that alone will help you to make significant changes.
This may be foreign to you and can be very difficult at first. The easiest way to learn is to lay on the floor on your back with your feet up on a couch or chair. Your hips and knees should each be bent at a 90 degree angle. Take your fingers and place them on your lower abdominal or inguinal area. Try to breathe into your fingers when you inhale, while preventing your ribs and chest from moving up toward your head. Your ribs and chest should primarily only expand laterally. Sometimes it helps to cough and feel the intra-abdominal pressure push into your fingers to get some feedback on what it should feel like. Then, try to simulate that same pressure when you breathe.
You are off to a great start. Another visual is to think of your abdominopelvic cavity like a balloon that you are inflating. You don’t want to just inflate it to the front; it should expand out to the sides and back down into the floor equally, as well. Envision wearing a pair of sweatpants, and you want to expand the waistband equally a full 360 degrees around. If you feel an area that seems to be “dead” or not expanding equally, consciously try to breathe down and into that particular area when you inhale. Back to the balloon analogy: the apex, or fullest part, of the balloon should be about two inches below the belly button. This is sometimes a helpful visual to demonstrate how low the actual breathing should be. Once you start to improve, start working on maintaining that pressure while you exhale too, not just while you inhale. Ideally, you should feel the same pressure with your fingers when you exhale as you do when you inhale. This all takes work, but the benefits are profound.
It is best to work on this breathing on a consistent basis. Like any exercise, the more it is performed, the easier it becomes. Consciously work on this for five to ten minutes per day and you will eventually find yourself breathing in this manner unconsciously during your daily activities. That’s the goal! (Remember those motor patterns?)