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THE INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN POSTURE AND BREATHING

Date: 2nd January 2019
Author: Chris Wood
Tags: Fitness

Ideal’ Posture

While our posture is most definitely something we should all be aware of, it is important to remember that perfect posture does not exist. In a room full of ‘healthy’ people presenting with no pain or functional limitations, it is guaranteed that each of their postures would vary in some way. Which raises the question; If posture varies from one person to the next but does NOT limit what we are capable of, what is normal posture?

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In the therapy industry, we work off of an ‘ideal’ posture. This is so that we can assess the efficiency of each individuals’ movement through optimal positioning of body segments, which will also highlight areas of potential strain. Any deviations outside of this norm, however, are not considered abnormal. It is only when these changes in alignment impact our function that it enters the realms of abnormality and need addressing.

Posture can be classified in a number of different ways, as shown above. These will be explored in depth in future posts. For now, it is important to just be aware that they exist.

Dimensions of Breathing

As humans, we find ourselves in an extended, upright position quite often. Unfortunately, this means that common postural changes mostly come in the form of slouched, flexed positions. A flexor dominant position impedes on our chest wall and limits the amount of freedom our ribcage and lungs have to expand, causing shallow breathing (chest breathing).

Our ribcage expands in 3 dimensions to allow for lung inflation;

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Vertically – As the Diaphragm descends and flattens, it provides greater room for the lungs to move downwards

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Laterally – As we move down the ribcage, they lift upwards and outwards like bucket handles, allowing the lungs to expand outwards

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Anteroposteriorly – The final dimension is a forward movement, where the upper ribs swing forwards and upwards.

In quiet breathing, we exhale through the recoil of our elastic lung tissue, like letting go of an inflated balloon, meaning energy expenditure is minimal and we don’t really have to do a lot. 

When we exercise, however, we require the help of specific muscles to help us get the air in and out quick enough to meet your oxygen demands.

It is easy to see from the images above how a rounded, flexed posture may restrict one or more of these dimensions, restricting your lung expansion and making the effort of breathing more taxing on our body. It may not be something you recognise right away, but overtime, these small muscles become over active and struggle more and more to do their job. Not forgetting that these muscles have other jobs as well. Asking too much of them can further your postural imbalances, and you find yourself caught in a vicious circle. 

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Learn to Breathe Deeper

In order to keep energy expenditure low, and lower threat of abnormal posture, we can begin to understand and change our breathing patterns.

Inhalation

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Start Position

1 - Place one hand on your chest and on hand on your stomach.

2 - Breathe normally and pay close attention to the direction in which your hands move

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Shallow breathing

If your upper hand moves first, while your lower hand remains still, this is an example of a shallow breath and the lungs are not expanding downwards into the abdomen

Screen Shot 2018-01-04 at 18.35.10.png

Deeper Breathing – Step 1

Ideally, the lower hand should move outwards FIRST, pushing your belly button away over a period of 2 seconds.

When we breath a little deeper, the upper hand

Screen Shot 2018-01-04 at 18.35.19.png

Start position

1 - Place your hands around your waist, thumbs to the back

2 - Spreading your fingers out and covering the lower ribs. 

Deeper Breathing – Step 2

1 - When you breathe in, the first thing you should feel is you stomach protrude forwards, like in Step 1 (above)

2 - The deeper you breath, the more you should feel the ribs begin to expand outwards and upwards against your hands, again, over a period of 2 seconds.

Exhalation

The breath out should be effortless. It should be a free recoil of air over a period of 3 seconds. Your abdominal muscles should only become active during forceful, heavy breathing. Keep one hand over your stomach and remind yourself to keep these muscles relaxed.

References

Elphinston, J. (2008) Stability, sport, and performance movement. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Main, E. and Denehy, L. (2016). Cardiorespiratory Physiotherapy: adults and Paediatrics, 5th Edition. London: Elsevier. 

Moore, K. L., Dalley, A. F., and Agur, A. M. R. (2014). Clinically Oriented Anatomy. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Tortora, G. J. and Derrickson, B. (2014). Principles of Anatomy and Physiology EMEA 14th Edition. Danvers, Massachusetts: Wiley.

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