In practice I find most people are upper rib breathers, over-using the muscles in their chest and neck rather than the diaphragm. This might be due to stress, breathing-difficulties, or simply out of habit. Breathing retraining exercises can be practiced by anyone to calm both the musculoskeletal, and nervous system. Deep breathing with the diaphragm is also thought to encourage gut motility by gently massaging it as we breathe in and out. These exercises will therefore be useful at any stage in life, but particularly during pregnancy as the organs are shifted to make room for your baby and the diaphragm becomes compressed, potentially causing symptoms like heartburn and indigestion.
Pregnancy and Breathing Retraining
Breathing retraining exercises will regulate your breathing pattern and encourage slower abdominal breathing. They should be practiced daily to calm the nervous system and stretch the lower ribs and diaphragm, creating more room for your baby to develop in.
Breathing Retraining Exercises
These exercises should form part of your daily routine; you might also like to practice them during a panic attack to encourage relaxation. These exercises can be performed anywhere in a seated, standing of lying position to help reduce discomfort or symptoms of anxiety. You must be patient – it can take weeks or months to completely change your breathing pattern.
Stage 1: Tune in to your breathing rhythm
Place one hand on your chest, and one on your stomach. Close your eyes and take a moment to tune in to your current breathing pattern. As you inhale notice which of your two hands is rising first. Is your chest pushing your hand the most, or your stomach?
Secondly, think about inhalation. Are you breathing in and out through your nose or mouth?
Stage 2: Activate your diaphragm
You should feel your stomach fill with air before your chest. Take some deep breaths and focus on expanding your lower ribs and diaphragm without raising your chest and shoulders.
Ideally you should breathe in through your nose as this allows more oxygen in to your body. You may breathe out through your mouth, exhaling fully.
Stage 3: Box Breathing
When you are confident with the correct breathing technique you may begin ‘box breathing’. This involves counting to four during each stage of the breathing cycle. I.e. breathe in over the duration of four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds and hold for four seconds. Repeat this cycle at least five times.
Stage 4: Mindfulness
When diaphragmatic breathing begins to feel more natural you might like to introduce progressive muscle relaxation to your breathing practice. Focus on relaxing all of the muscles and joints in your body starting at the foot and ankle and working all the way up to the face, head and jaw. This complete practice will activate your parasympathetic nervous system, encouraging ‘rest and digest’ body functions.
Osteopathic treatment may improve lower rib breathing mechanics and prevent overuse injury of the accessory muscles or respiration in the upper back, chest and neck. Osteopaths use hands-on techniques similar to that of a Chiropractor or Physiotherapist. An Osteopath’s role is to support you and your body during and after pregnancy to promote a healthy and enjoyable experience!
Article written by Ms Holly Siddall an Osteopath and Medical Acupuncturist practicing from Neal’s Yard Kensington, the Hurlingham Club and Chelsea Pharmacy Medi