A few weeks back my friend and colleague Aaron Schwenzfeier posted a blog seeking answers to a number of questions concerning diaphragmatic breathing, many of which call into question how do we actually “fix” breathing patterns. Aaron is a really smart guy, who, in his Socratic questioning, makes several excellent points. Below are his questions concerning diaphragmatic breathing and my current thought processes.
How does a good warm-up change (diaphragmatic breathing)? Increase body temp, changing biochemistry, changed perception from getting active, decreased parasympathetic control… how do all these changes effect diaphragmatic breathing?
I think this is an excellent question, and makes us realize the value of the context in which we use certain exercises. I think warm ups can have a similar impact on breathing patterns as they do on many other patterns. How does a warm up impact the squat? If we do the right one, addressing the right things, I’m sure we can improve the squat pattern and breathing patterns are likely the same. This is why I think breathing patterning to bring about conscious competence belongs within the early stages of the warm up. With respect to the biochemical aspect, depending on how long a legitimate breathing pattern disorder and the impact of the subsequent hypocapnia/respiratory alkalosis on what the brain sees to be “normal,” there is a chance that increased CO2 presence can increase breathing drive, but I think has little impact on the pattern itself.
Does a few drills done in a therapy room with conscious focus carry over to entirely different activities with faster speeds, and completely different afferent inputs?
Does supine, relaxed breathing transfer? Maybe, maybe not. I contend, however, that the awareness is surely to transfer when we take athletes from an effort that increases breathing drive (an airdyne sprint, a medicine ball circuit, etc) and then ask them to maintain good breathing patterns while engaging in a challenge to maintain spinal stability like a dead bug or plank position, something more akin to sporting demands, that will allow us to train better patterns in closer-to-game afferent inputs. If we can get an athlete to execute better a landing pattern after coming down with a rebound, it seems reasonable to me that training breathing patterns can result in similar results for said pattern.
How does this change for an athlete who goes from de-conditioned to conditioned with no conscious focus on breathing mechanics?
This is a great question that I’d like to see looked at further, and one to which I have no theoretical answer. I suppose one could assume that if a deconditioned athlete has a bad squat pattern, more “conditioning” does not necessarily improve the pattern itself, so diaphragmatic breathing may be similar in that it is a pattern, however, the squat is not directly related to the respiratory centers as is the diaphragm/breathing patterns, which are more vital.
How does ‘cleaning up’ one’s diet effect breathing?
If the diet is rife with irritating foods that alter organ function innervated by C3, C4, or C5 nerve roots, then I suppose that the two-way-street effect could arguably improve contractile ability of the diaphragm. I recall Paul Chek making this argument about the abdominal wall back in the early 2000s. Perhaps like motor overflow in CAP, maybe organs innervated at other levels near C3-C5 can impact function of the diaphragm. This referred pain patterning is still a confusing topic in the internal medicine community, where a number of conditions cause odd musculoskeletal pain for internal organ dysfunction. Even on unrelated levels of the nervous system, food intolerance may cause an increase in mast cell activity and histamine production, which can have a constrictive effect on the bronchioles leading to decreased “fullness” of breathing and elevated breathing drive. If I recall, Chaitow seems to suggest that this happens in individuals that are “subclinically” intolerant as well as those who go to full-blown anaphylaxis.
How does going from “hating life” (tired, stressed out, relationship problems) to “loving life” change diaphragmatic breathing mechanics? Or how about this one? A person ‘spills’ there thoughts and feelings to a friend about what’s been bothering them; you can instantaneously see a change in their diaphragmatic breathing.
With respect to these two questions, I’d almost certainly say that both of these instances can result in more favorable breathing mechanics. Anxiety plays a huge role in breathing dysfunction, and it’s rarely possible to entirely pull out the physiology from psychology and vice versa. I think this is why we need to start looking at movement not only for what it is in angles, body positions, etc, but also as a behavior.
The bottom line of all of this is that, as Aaron suggests, breathing is a hugely complex issue that has a number of potential “roadblocks” beyond mechanical dysfunction that make it necessary for us to identify the issue and work from the Gestalt principles.