How does our posture affect breathing?
How we breathe affects EVERY SINGLE ASPECT of our health so it’s incredibly important that we see this as a firm foundation on which to build on.
Of course everything is cyclical so just as the way we happen to be breathing (hyper-ventilating for example due to intense exercise or sickness) can change the composition of our blood (hyperventilation lowers oxygen levels), so will the composition of our blood change the way we breathe and cause hyperventilation. Ditto with diet. Our diet will change the composition of our blood which will change how we breathe….BUT, how we breathe is also likely to affect our food choices… Are you getting the picture?
Posture is important and perhaps more relevant these days because our sitting culture means, for most adults and for some children, the natural curvature of our spine has been affected. But how does this affect our breathing?
You might imagine that I am referring to the hunched over shoulders, rounded back, compressed chest position of the computer bound and of course, this type of posture will lead to terrible problems. But the opposite – shoulders pulled back and bum sticking out – can be just as bad, if not worse.
Notably too, this can be a habitual problem for some yogis – puffing out the ribs (which has nothing to do with opening the chest), sticking out the bum (which is the ubiquitous result of our sitting culture’s hip flexors – and which pinches the lower back) and inhibits the ability to execute longer and slower inhalations. But, it’s also the position you see in school assemblies when kids try to sit up straight and it’s a very common position for many chair-bound women who are trying to sit up straight. Combine this position with the usual abdominal tension and it becomes easy to understand why there is so many hip, back and neck problems as well as other chronic, slower-moving health issues stemming from that inability to breathe efficiently.
I feel cross when I see people who’ve had their shoulders strapped back for therapy. It’s unnatural, it’s not the answer and could possibly lead to far more issues in the long run simply because it will cause “duck bum” in most people and make them puff their chest. As stated previously, this limits our breathing and inhibits the ability of the diaphragm to function the way it is meant to. Any restriction of the diaphragm will cause a SNS (sympathetic nervous system) response and one of these stress responses will be shallow breathing / hyperventilation. As also stated previously, these things tend to be cyclical.
Instead of puffing the chest and taking your shoulders back unnaturally, try to lengthen your spine by lifting from the sternum (breast bone). Drop the tailbone so that the front of your hips (illiac crests) are level with your sitting (bum) bones – rather than forward of them. Align your ears with the sides of your hips. Keep your chin down – without dropping the head forward so that the throat and the neck are nice and long. Think, crown of head pretty much aligning with the base of your body. Don’t let the chest thrust forward. You’ll be amazed at how much longer you can make your in-breath and it’s why many pranyama positions are executed with shoulders forward – NOT back.
And most importantly, SOFTEN the tummy since this is the only way to engage the main muscle of breathing (diaphragm). Holding muscles tight and tense has NOTHING to do with strength – it’s just holding muscles tight and tense. That said, of course it is important to BE STRONG so that you can relax and have great posture naturally.