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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
 
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  Home  > Personal Wellness  > Breathing Freely

Breathing Freely

Physical posture is one of the main factors that determine whether our breathing is free or restricted. How can the diaphragm possibly do its job of expanding if the abdominal muscles that support it are weak, or if the midsection is caved in on itself in a way that makes it difficult for any abdominal or diaphragmatic movement to take place? The body will compensate by breathing exclusively from the upper chest, never fully filling the lungs. The result is only a half breath, or less.

Our furniture, our cars, and our clothing often encourage poor posture, leading to poor breathing. Years of adapting to unhealthy environments leads to habits that are difficult to change. Recall the cramped school desks that some of us sat in so many hours a day, over twelve or more years of our lives - desks that forced us to double over at the waist, or to strain our neck.

Pause for a moment and check your posture as you read this. Does it enhance your natural breathing, or restrict you to a shallow, constrained intake of air? Those of us who work at sedentary occupations may suffer a whole range of health problems, including low-back pain, headaches, hemorrhoids, stomach and intestinal maladies, congested sinuses, and other respiratory complications. Without proper oxygenation, we tire easily, start to feel foggy, and may soon lose interest in the task at hand. We think we need time out for a caffeine break (coffee, cola, chocolate), when what we really need is more oxygen!

People today are spending more and more hours behind the wheel, as they drive to work on crowded freeways or navigate a stop-start dance through traffic-choked city streets. Even if the car we drive has an ergonomically designed seat, the stress or fatigue we endure as we drive can aggravate conditions leading to poor posture and poor breathing. Cars without such design features compound the negative effects, discouraging the relaxed but aligned posture that best serves breathing. Cramped legs, strained low back, and tense arms and shoulders are common, even on short trips. Truck drivers and others who frequently drive long distances often suffer more serious problems.

If you are engaged in office work, examine the position of your desk, worktable, or computer station, as well as the kind of chairs you use - both for work and for relaxation. Become more aware of the posture you most frequently assume when you work. Evaluate how these elements are affecting your ability to breathe fully. If you work for a company with an ergonomics expert, ensure that your workplace is ergonomically sound.

Clothing design may also discourage freedom of movement and restrict breathing. Our culture prizes the flat belly and continues to invent torturous means of ensuring it. Figure-controlling pantyhose and tight-fitting jeans are big business, and not easily dismissed. If you artificially tighten the abdomen to flatten the belly, this activity generally involves holding your breath, which cuts off vital energy flow. You may also tighten the genitals and anus in the same motion, blocking the flow of sexual energy as well. Tight waistbands and tight collars are also offenders in promoting poor breathing habits.




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