When Life Takes Your Breath Away


Did you know there’s a right way and a wrong way to breathe?  It’s not really obvious unless you know exactly what to look for.  Would you like to find out how you’re doing?  Face a mirror and take in a few deep breaths.  Watch your abdomen, chest and shoulders.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Okay, what did you see?  If you saw your shoulders shrug up towards your ears rather than your abdomen move out, you are breathing incorrectly.   Some of you may be thinking “What difference does it make…there’s air going in, so what’s the big deal?”  Totally understandable, but your diaphragm is your primary breathing muscle (not your shoulders), and not using it effectively is a bigger deal than you might think.

Shaped like a parachute and probably on hiatus

Upper chest breathing is usually a result of frequent periods of elevated stress.  Daily life stress causes real physical changes, one of which is altered breathing.  Without getting into the biochemical and musculoskeletal details, an upper chest breathing pattern can lead to altered mood, decreased alertness and cognitive function, increased pain sensitivity, intestinal problems, poor core strength / stability and rampant trigger points throughout the shoulders.  Generally stated, it can make you feel pretty crummy!

So what can you do if you’re breathing with your shoulders?  Here’s a good exercise to help retrain your diaphragm:

-Either sit or lie on your back with one hand on your upper abdomen and the other on your chest.

-Take a slow breath in through your nose.  The hand over your abdomen should move out if your diaphragm is active.

-Exhale slowly against pursed lips, like you’re trying to exhale through a straw.  Be careful not to exhale too quickly or you could get lightheaded.

-Repeat for 30+ breaths twice each day.

You may still need other exercises to help fix other issues in your neck, shoulders and core, but that is a good one to help get your diaphragm working for you again.  Chances are that you’ll feel more relaxed, refreshed and alert afterwards.

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Michael Bento is an Advanced Trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park. He holds a Masters degree in Human Movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist.

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