LUNG HEALTH: Let's Talk About Breath
Updated: Mar 16
Lung health in general is important for all in our daily lives, but breath takes on an even more important role during yoga practice. Our breath is our life force and our energy (Prana); without it life is impossible. A human can go days without food or water but only minutes without oxygen to the lungs. Taking the time to be mindful and focus on your breath will help to improve focus, decrease stress, decrease risk for injury and improve overall health.
Specific to yoga, paying attention to your breath will drastically improve your exercise and practice, especially in advanced poses. Try to focus on deep inhalations and exhalations in every pose, using your inhales to find more length, and exhales to find more depth and core activation.
There is a lot of hype about the power of diaphragmatic breath or “belly breathing”; this type of breathing promotes the purposeful pushing out of the belly and leads to poor training of the deep core stabilizers and facilitates overactivity of the rectus abdominis. The result is the belly pooch you might have experienced or seen. The most functional and beneficial breath to train is what we refer to in LYT yoga training as the “360 degree breath”. This type of breath focuses on expansion of the entire rib cage and diaphragmatic region with inhalation laterally (out to side), front to back and upwards into the chest and collar bones. We want the breath to move up and out, expanding into the back as well as the belly and using both the primary and accessory breathing muscles in coordination as opposed to excessive overuse of one area. While exhaling the structures should collapse inward, feeling a slight tightening and abdominal connection/contraction of the deep core and spinal stabilizers.
Posture and soft tissue restrictions also play a large role in one's ability to access this 360 degree breath. When we spend increased time in slouched postures or bending over a computer, kitchen sink, etc., our thoracic spines become flexed/rounded/kyphotic. The chest tissues become shortened and compressed while our back muscles become overly stressed and irritated. The quadratus lumborum and iliopsoas muscles have multiple attachments to the diaphragm which is our primary breathing muscle, and when shortened or restricted our breathing capacity is significantly limited. Opening the tissues of the chest wall - including the latissimus, pectoralis major and especially minor as well as the QL and iliopsoas - through gravity assisted and dynamic stretching as well as myofascial release techniques performed by a therapist manually or with the use of tools such as a Melt roller can be extremely beneficial to improving quality and coordination of breath.
While breath expansion is so important to promote length and nourish the tissues and organ centers, breathe retention is also a key component to pulmonary health and function. Practicing breath retention by waiting 2-4 seconds at the end of each inhale prior to exhalation as well as challenging the body in how long it can go without inhalation following an exhalation helps to retrain the central nervous system and facilitate the parasympathetic response center for decreased stress, anxiety and cortisol levels. Effective breath and breath retention is thought to heal the body from the inside out and treat a variety of diseases from skin issues to diabetes. Benefits of breath retention include:
Increasing lifespan by preserving life of stem cells
Increasing the resistance to infection
Regeneration of new tissue in the brain which helps reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s disease
Increasing your cardio strength
Decreasing stress levels
We utilize this practice of breath retention in the LYT yoga method!
Finally, your spine, ribs and diaphragm can severely impact your ability to access proper breathing when restricted. Releasing these muscles can significantly improve breath and lung capacity. Myofascial stretching and release, as well as instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization techniques guided by your therapist in specific positions and coupled with targeted active movements and breath retraining can help tremendously! Find the right practitioner for you and go improve your lung and overall health!
At IVY Integrative, you can work with one practitioner or build your own team of holistic practitioners! Reach your optimum health in-person or online. Check out our Get Started page to learn how to work with us!
Your Physical Therapist,
Dr. Sarah Kingsley PT, DPT
This information is generalized and intended for educational purposes only. Due to potential individual contraindications, please see your primary care provider before implementing any strategies in these posts