Ah, the breath. Where would we all be if it weren’t for the breath?!
Clearly, and a no-brainer – we need the breath to be able to move. I mean this in several senses. Yes, biologically we need the oxygen from the air to be transported to our cells so that they can respire and function as organs. Thus, our entire system of organs can operate and hence we can move. That’s the biology.
But also physically – tissues which are restricted with good oxygen become stuck…and stuckness will lead to pain. Mentally, we all need a breathe of fresh air! And emotionally – free flowing, supportive breath is the essential ingredient to mobilising our emotions, releasing their tension and letting them go…
And as easy as it is to breathe…for some it’s certainly easier said than done when running.
The breath is so fundamentally important – for our general, interconnected health – that it’s invaluable exploring our relationship with it. During our running, the breath has big ramifications with where and how our injuries may occur, so again, it’s pretty key!
Our systems are so finely interwoven that if we’re not accessing the breath in a whole-health supporting manner, our whole-health can suffer. Physically, mentally or emotionally.
So, the body has 3 diaphragms. Yes, I know, I know – there’s only one respiratory diaphragm…but there are two others which collaborate with the respiratory diaphragm and coordinate the action of the breath. These are the pelvic floor at our base, and the thoracic outlet at the upper rim of the chest.
These other two ‘diaphragms’ have a role to play at different times – for example, the thoracic outlet and its accessory muscles will kick in if you’re super out of puff by increasing the potential volume within the lungs. It’s clever, our design – they thought through all of the eventualities!
But we’re not supposed to be using this additional thoracic outlet diaphragm to principally generate our breath as a default, because it’s a ‘fight or flight’ setting. It’s only supposed to kick in during high-stress times. And what we find is that we often do use this mode as our default…(because we experience inadvertent stress such a lot of the time).
If the fight or flight mode – the ‘sympathetic’ driver of our autonomic nervous system – is on all the time, we get into all sorts of problems. Digestive issues, sleep problems, anxiety, increased pain response are all potential symptoms.
And then there’s inadvertent muscle tension in the neck, shoulders and in the lower back which can be the result of us not accessing our breath appropriately…
These are all possibilities that are related to us not breathing well, but please, oh please, don’t start worrying that your breathing is all off-whack – this is not the way to return to the calm of the ‘rest and digest’ state!
Keep calm, and breathe…
I don’t mention these things to create a panic…but simply to point out that our body’s functions are multifaceted. And we don’t always attribute the interconnectedness of our system with our ails (not least because our healthcare system doesn’t ordinarily support this concept, and generally speaking, it doesn’t go any way to offering multi-faceted approaches to our healing, either).
And, in truth, neck pain or back pain are not always about the breath…there may be other reasons for these, but it’s imperative to know that the breath can be a factor though because, as I mentioned, when the breath isn’t moving and there’s ‘stuckness’, pain is usually on its way… So either way you look at it, getting our breathing moving well is essential for us (and not just when we’re in pain).
The unlikely effects of carrying tension
What’s more is that, if we’re carrying unnecessary tension in the pelvic floor ‘diaphragm’, this can have a knock-on effect throughout our lower limbs; held tension within the pelvic floor can affect the torsion within the bones of our legs, and all the way down into our feet!
In ordinary, daily activities we may well have no grasp of the effect of the tension being held here, on the rest of the body, but add the repeated action of running into an equation where we’re holding onto tension in our tissues (ie when there’s a disrupted breathing pattern), and injury is very likely to be show itself.
This is to say that your shin splints, or foot problems could be related to how you’re breathing! (Or not, more accurately.)
There may well be various reasons why our breathing becomes upset, and the disruption can certainly be temporary. As we’ve said, stress is a huge factor, together with unconscious ingrained habits.
But also, deep emotional pain will have a huge impact on our breathing. The restrictive effect that emotional pain has on us, has the ability to literally strip us of our ability to open our lungs, and breathe… The ancient systems of the whole-person body to get a better understanding on this – they recognised that it is our lungs which are the organs which process ‘grief’…
This is another topic altogether, but if you’re interested in more, take a look at this article here which delves deeper… (and be gentle on yourself if you’re experiencing this right now).
Over-riding the breathing impulse
The most phenomenal feature of being a conscious human is that we can actively control our breath. And I don’t mean that we can hold it. I mean, yes we can (and unless we’re free-diving, this is so often a feature of our problems!)…but we can move it, direct it, regulate it, increase it and over-ride our basic impulse for deliberate, active, conscious breathing.
This means that we have the capacity to relearn and instil new habits; to override and release the old patterns which can often become embedded.
We will have created the inadvertent patterns in the first instance (even if through sub-conscious routes)…and we have a greater ability to regain a conscious control of it, and positively shift it once more – as is our natural state of being.
Literally, every breath is an opportunity for a fresh start…
Now you won’t be surprised to hear, if you’ve been following this Running Movement Series, but the essential element to creating a change here (or elsewhere) is to bring your awareness to it…
Bringing it back to our awareness, and our friend, yoga…
Awareness. Once again. We don’t get anyway fast without it. It comes back to our benchmarks – we need a register on the ‘what is’ before we can attempt to modify anything. And it’s not very easy to see ourselves objectively…(because we’re living in our bodies!)
This, I think, is one of the greatest benefits to getting on your mat and attending yoga – it’s not just the attention that we give to developing greater control of our breath, but when we’re guided, pennies often start to drop… we start to gather more information about ourselves as a function of the exploration, and we can soften, and relax in that space. All of which will be supportive to our breath.
And with a greater awareness of our breath, and the practice of moving it, appropriately, when we’re still and at rest, then we can start to apply changes to our breathing to our moving body…and when we’re running.
Over to you
As they say, though, we have to walk before we can run (all the puns, always intended! ; )so this week’s task is pretty simple.
This week’s task is to give yourself five minutes of uninterrupted space, and to lie-down on a mat, or a rug, or the carpet, and to bring your attention to your breath, and then to ask yourself –
- Where in your body are you breathing today?
- What part of you moves as you inhale and as you exhale?
Take a few moments just to observe and see, does it change as the time passes? Can you notice your
breath settling, becoming more quiet, does where it’s moving change as you relax more and more.
Now, try to stay awake! But just watch, where does your breath move, when you’re really relaxed…?
Now, if you find this practice brings up any anxiety about your breath (and this is not uncommon when we’re asked to focus on our breathing), try this –
Try and inflate your belly as you breathe in, and allow your belly to fall as you exhale.
(Yes, I wrote that correctly – even if it doesn’t sound like what you thought was ‘how to breathe’… Just try it…Anxiety can’t exist when you’re ‘breathing in your belly’, for one because it brings the breath deeper into the body – and not all caught up in the head – and for two, focusing on breathing into the belly it brings you into the now…).
The next step and the next breath
We cover several different breath practices on the Holistic Running Health Immersion – which will be unfolding over 3 fabulous weeks next month! These practices powerfully enable us to connect with the breath, and to give us the ability to better mobilise it both during our day to day, but essentially, during our running…
The doors to the 21 Days Holistic Running Health Immersion open next week… I’ll let you know the ins and outs then! : )
Otherwise, enjoy taking a more full breath and see you next week for the next article in the Running Movement Series, where we’ll be looking at getting to the core of things, and getting all the working parts working together!
If you’ve only just joined us in this running movement exploration, welcome! Here are all of the links back to the previous article:
See you next week for more.
With very best wishes
Living Green Health
Run Breathe Live Green