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Have you ever had a friend say to you (with frustration), “I eat well, I exercise, I get good sleep, but I still don’t feel well?” Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. These are all important pieces of the wellness puzzle and they are all great. Sometimes you stumble about the perfect combination and any dis-ease you are feeling disappears. Some of us have to uncover those missing pieces. Those hidden, internal stressors that may create symptoms or even sabotage our other efforts. Breath is one of these things. We all know that we need air to live, but most of us leave it at that. Breath is like food, however…the source and the quality mean everything!
The quality of your breath “is directly and profoundly influencing your mood, your digestion, the efficiency of the functioning of your brain and nervous system, the balance of calcium and magnesium in your body, how sensitive you are to pain, the tone of your muscles (and fascia), …and how tired or alert you feel, among numerous other influences.”
We all know that a deep breath makes us feel better & gives us energy. In fact it’s often the first thing we instruct someone to do when they are upset or fatigued. But did you know that chronic, dysfunctional breathing can create a downward spiral of physical symptoms? When we respond to a stressful situation with shallow, “chest” breathing it’s totally normal…at first. When we experience chronic stress this type of breathing can become a habit. I would estimate that about one-in-five people (mainly women) that I meet in my yoga classes or in my massage practice exhibit this style of “over-breathing” and (no surprise) complain of neck and shoulder discomfort due to the frequent use of these accessory muscles of respiration.
Beneath the surface the effects of over-breathing are much more complicated. As excessive levels of CO2 reduce the level of carbonic acid in the blood, the pH of the blood actually changes resulting in respiratory alkalosis. This condition can cause blood vessels to constrict which impedes circulation and increases blood pressure. It can also affect digestion and has been linked to IBS and constipation. Delivery of oxygen to the brain and muscle tissue is much less efficient when dysfunctional breathing is habitual, and often causes fatigue, anxiety, agitation and brain fog.
Because the body strives to maintain homeostasis the kidneys will attempt to eliminate some of the metabolic waste caused by respiratory alkalosis. This then disturbs the body’s micronutrient balance (calcium and magnesium specifically). What a mess!!! But wait…there’s more. The pain, fatigue and internal stress that is caused by over-breathing actually exacerbates the condition. As does the blood sugar fluctuations that come from an unbalanced diet high in sugar/carbohydrates and low in healthy fats.
Here’s the good news. Once recognized, this condition is pretty easily remedied in a short period of time. The process involves mobilizing the areas of the body that are restricting breath as well as retraining the primary muscle of respiration, the diaphragm.
If this sounds like you, take it seriously. A great first step would be finding a massage or physical therapist that understands this condition. Have them assess your breath as well as your accessory muscles of respiration. A well trained yoga teacher or yoga therapist can be a great resource for breath (re)training. She can also assist with deep relaxation and stretching techniques that will help to maintain the results of the bodywork.
Breathe Well, Be Well,
This post was shared on Fight Back Fridaywith Food Renegade.