Are you paying attention to your breathing?

Breathing disorders affect people in different ways. For some it causes mental distress, fear, anxiety, and even a loss of self-confidence. For others it causes physical symptoms, muscle imbalances, back and shoulder pain, and even pelvic disorders like incontinence.

In the past two decades of helping people live a healthy, active, pain-free life, I’ve learned many “tricks” as I’ve been known to call them to restore optimal health and reduce pain in my clients that have suffered for years with little to no resolve. I’ve been able to help people of all ages, and with countless conditions, restore function and even structure not only with my hands on skills but by teaching people Hands-off Bodywork.

The diverse fields of hands on therapeutic interventions I’ve studied have made me quite well versed in issues spanning disorders to diseases and have been able to offer insight on how to reduce and often times eliminate chronic issues that deter a person from living a full life.

One common oversight for many if not all disorders is an efficiently functioning diaphragm and evaluating respiratory patterns. Breathing pattern disorders are rampant amongst all of my clients suffering from chronic pain. In fact I’d say I’ve never working on a single person with chronic pain of any sort that didn’t possess some form of dysfunctional breathing pattern.
What are breathing pattern disorders?

We all know breathing is essential to living. Stop breathing and, well, you would die. Long term conditions and diseases can both cause and affect the breath which can destabilize the mind, the body, alter our emotional balance and even throw our metabolic and digestive processes into complete disarray.

Last week I was at the IDEA PT Summit in Seattle, WA where I discussed shoulder and pelvic disorders and explained how the diaphragmatic motion could and often times is a culprit in these sites of pain thus, if you don’t restore neurological balance in the core mechanisms pain will persist, return, and most likely increase or cause more issues over time. The amount of times I’ve seen people with what’s diagnosed as MUS (medically unexplained symptoms) is in the hundreds each year. This is a terrible, viscous cycle of pain, anxiety, not to mention total misunderstanding of how to create a solution to their issues.

Breathing pattern disorders can play a key role in chronic fatigue, persistent pain, MS, fibromyalgia, depression, asthma, anxiety, and even progressive osteoporosis.

What’s important to note here is that poor breathing patterns, just like poor posture, is not a disease yet it is linked to every disease I’ve ever worked with. The question then must arise, how can we restore normal function once it’s altered and what missing causal factors can lead to chronically poor diaphragmatic motion and core stability?

Balancing the Force of Mental and Physical Health—Breathing is the link

The first things to recognize are the two sides of the breathing spectrum, hyper and hypoventilation. Hyperventilation syndrome is usually defined as excessive inhalation—this alters metabolic requirements, reduces CO2 (carbon dioxide) concentrations of the blood below normal ranges. This can alter pH, increases alkalinity and can produce symptoms and even aid in restoring function if applied properly as a restorative technique. Hypoventilation occurs when respiration is too shallow which also alters gas exchange. This leads to an increase of CO2 causing metabolic acidosis or a decrease in alkalinity.

In either instance when metabolic processes are inhibited to sustain balance, everything from digestive issues to mental and physical disorders can arise. If someone sits in a slouch just by habit not because they can’t—adaptive stress and strain can cause muscles, ligaments and even joints to alter their function and form. This can lead to restrictions in motion, chronic stiffness, and even chronic pain ranging from constipation to back ache. Poor breathing habits may not be considered pathological (like asthma) but should be considered such because it can alter the biochemistry of the body. This can then lead to emotional disorders, digestive, circulatory, and musculoskeletal imbalances.

How can we resolve breathing disorders?

First, awareness that you may have a breathing disorder or an unresolved one is the best combat against it causing more issues. For example, if you have a shoulder injury, hip replacement, or even carpal tunnel syndrome, all can limit thoracic expansion, alter abdominal musculature, and limit diaphragmatic motion. All of these issues can force overuse of accessory breathing muscles in the neck causing neck pain, shoulder impingement and even pelvic instability. When we restrict or inhibit the three-dimensional movement of the diaphragm we can also constrict smooth muscles from their motion, narrowing the blood vessels, alter fibroblasts to differentiate into myofibroblasts, and reduce collagen synthesis, which accelerates the aging process and decreases wound repair, and increases recovery time.

It seems so mundane, breathing that is. It’s happening 28,000 times or more a day. How could we be breathing too much or too little? It just happens. So how can we reduce the instability of the core reflexes, restore optimal diaphragmatic motion, and improve posture in less than 10-minutes a day? You know what I’m about to write, yes? All you need to do is learn how to MELT. If you are suspecting your diaphragm may be out of balance, which MELT Sequences would best support and restore the delicate balance of the neurological core mechanisms that control our breathing.

Here’s the basic rundown of the sequences and when to use them:

  • First, try the MELT hand and foot treatments. You can do a mini-hand or foot treatment at your desk while you are at work or at any point of the day.
  • Next, add the MELT Rebalance Sequence to your self-care regimen. I’d suggest doing this sequence daily. Once you have this sequence under your belt the other two MELT sequences that you want to learn are the Upper Body Compression Sequence, which involves a key move called Rib Length and the Neck Release Sequence. Once you know how to do these moves, here’s the MELT map you would want to do a minimum of 3x a week:
  1. Mini Hand Treatment
  2. Upper Body Compression Sequence
  3. Rebalance Sequence
  4. Neck Release Sequence

This MELT Map takes approximately 15-20 minutes a day and can help restore the volume and ease of diaphragmatic motion, reduce accessory respiratory muscles from overworking, improve sufficient air exchange, and restore coordination in respiration.

Bottom line, poor breathing patterns can lead to overactive neck muscles like scalene muscles causing a forward head carriage, mid-back trigger points, frozen shoulder, and a host of fibrotic disorders in the connective tissue system. This can cause rigidity of the cervical spine, fixed lordosis and poor adaptions in both the lower cervical and lumbar spine—all of which are linked to herniations, bulging discs, and a host of spinal disorders.

If you suffer from any type of chronic back, neck, or digestive pains and disorders, this is a great place to start recognizing that your daily life is a cause of your pain. MELTing daily can reduce accumulated stress that causes diaphragmatic disorders. Once you have these moves under your belt, I would then encourage anyone to find a MELT instructor who can add the Sternal Decompress Sequence and other specialized moves that aren’t in the book or DVDs. These more advanced moves can be added to the sequences I listed above and improve many chronic symptoms that have been unresolved by traditional medical or surgical interventions.

Consider MELT as a resource to restoring the diaphragms motion and take a deep breath. You are just steps away from feeling better!

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