Well, obviously, we all need to keep breathing…but why is this an important part of physical therapy treatment? From a physiological standpoint, we all require the intake of air to fully fill our lungs with oxygen, to expand our diaphragm (the big domed muscle at the bottom of our rib cage) and meet the requirements of our body with regards to breathing. We breathe in and fill our lungs (sort of like filling a balloon), followed by breathing out to get rid of “used” air (like when that same balloon is allowed to deflate). Taking in oxygen is a critical physiological need as well as expelling byproducts such as carbon dioxide. Breathing is mostly an unconscious activity controlled by our brains, but we have the ability to actively practice our breathing and improve our awareness and control. We can then use that increased awareness to help us exercise more efficiently.
When we are trying to improve our flexibility or unwind after a busy day, breathing can help us achieve a more relaxed state. For example, during prolonged stretching, when we’re trying to allow time for a muscle to release, this slower and purposeful breathing directs our heart rate to slow down and encourages a more complete release of tension. Often, in stressful situations where your pulse is racing or you experience a feeling of not being in control…this uneasy feeling can be minimized through relaxed, deep breathing. Your therapist may ask you to try taking in a slow, deep breath and then exhale as you move further into your stretch. By focusing on our breath control, we also help shut out distractions and minimize extraneous thoughts. Our attention is directed more towards the purposeful completion of stretching. Eckhart Tolle (spiritual leader and author of The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose) suggests that we should concentrate on a full, controlled intake of breath and feel the abdominal (belly) area fill and expand. Then we should hold that breath for a couple of moments and exhale. In doing so, we focus our attention on the act of breathing and clear our minds of other distractions. This activity is a form of mindfulness and can be an entry point into actual meditation practice.
Conversely, focusing on breath control can also ramp up the intensity of our workouts. As our workouts intensify, directing our breathing with increasingly rapid but shallower breaths helps to control oxygen intake. This becomes necessary as we challenge our endurance or push through a strengthening routine. Here, we are working on improving physical performance, purposefully stressing our bodies and thus increasing our heart rate, pushing the lungs to take in oxygen more efficiently and musculoskeletal systems to increase their output. Improving the capacity of our lungs with more efficient use of the breathing muscles helps to improve our exercise tolerance. Like anything else, consistent practice of breath control is necessary to see results. So whether we are looking to unwind, stretch more deeply or instead want to push our physical limits, we can all benefit from a daily practice of focusing on breath awareness and control. As we become more mindful of the importance of breath control, we can each become healthier, fitter and more productive.
Please call us at 305-595-9425 for personalized physical instruction or help with breath control.