• Is the Way You Breathe Increasing Your Pain?

    poor breathing

    Do you have neck, shoulder, or other upper body pain that can be alleviated with massage or stretching, but returns a couple hours or a couple days later? Do you wonder if there’s more wrong with your posture than you thought? It’s possible. Are you perhaps not relaxing or stretching enough? Maybe. But let me give you another possibility… you’re not breathing correctly.

    When Breathing Abdominally Isn’t Enough

    You’ve heard it time and again. Breathe from your belly…. Abdominal breathing is the proper way to breathe. That’s true, but what if I told you that’s not the whole truth?

    We assume that if we’re breathing abdominally (into the belly) that we’re breathing as deeply as we need. That may not be true, though. It IS possible to breathe shallowly even when breathing into your abdomen, and shallow breathing will jack up your neck, shoulders, and upper body.

    Most of the muscles that cause neck, shoulder, and other upper body pain are located in the neck, shoulders, and ribcage area. You’re probably aware that many of these muscles are responsible for creating the posture that’s most associated with upper body pain; arms forward, shoulders rounded, head forward (or looking down), and shoulders raised up toward your ears.

    But did you know that many of those muscles also assist in breathing? That means that some of these muscles contract not only when you breathe in, but also when your arms are forward, your shoulders are forward and/or raised, and when your head is forward or looking down. It also means that if you’re not breathing deeply enough and fully exhaling, those muscles won’t fully relax.

    So, if you want those muscles to fully relax you not only have to maintain a healthy posture, but you also have to breathe and exhale fully. They’ll relax when you bring your arms back to neutral, provided you’re doing it often or long enough to counter the arm-forward position. But they won’t relax fully or for long if you’re not breathing right.

    Go Ahead, Try This at Home

    There are a few things you can do at home between massage sessions to help maintain a healthy level of relaxation in your muscles:

    • Check your posture several times a day; adjust if needed. See if you breathe more deeply after the adjustment.
    • If you have to hold the same posture for long periods of time, take a minute or so each hour to move the held body parts in the opposite direction. Breathe deeply while you do this.
    • If you have chronic tight areas, ask your massage therapist for stretches you can do to help keep them loose, then actually do those stretches.
    • Check in with your breathing several times a day. If you’re breathing shallowly, take a really deep breath that completely fills your abdomen and chest and fully exhale. Repeat several times.
    • Check in with yourself often throughout the day. If you’re breathing shallowly, start breathing more fully. Breathe fully for several breaths. Continue checking in to make sure you’re still breathing fully.
    • Use your breath to assist your upper body stretches. Prepare to do the stretch, take a deep breath, then fully exhale while you’re stretching. You’ll get a much deeper stretch.

    Remember, muscles facilitate movement. All movement. They move our arms and legs, of course, but they also move our ribs and collarbones when we breathe. We can’t neglect one whole type of movement and expect to get optimal results.

    Do me a favor, will you? Pay attention to your breathing for the next few days and see if you’re a shallow breather. If you are, try the suggestions above and let me know if they help.

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