Breathing and its effect on the human organism i.e. psychosomatics in action

Right now you are breathing, otherwise you would not be able to read this article. But the important question is HOW? Do you breathe deeply? Does your chest or belly rise? Is the breath shallow or deep?

If you are experiencing stress, anxiety or internal tension, your breath and exhalation are likely to be shallow and very short. If you are relaxed, then it is likely that breathing is calm, slow, deep and directed into the whole body. This second type of breathing is what is being focused on in a variety of meditation exercises and, for example, yoga.

Our breath is something so normal that we do not even know that we are breathing most of the time. Inhaling and exhaling are automatic and self-evident activities for us. However, for our body, proper breathing makes all the difference!

Let's describe what's going on with our body when breathing. We call the wind movement a breath wave. The main source of inspirational force is diaphragm and intercostal muscle contraction. This leads to an increase in chest volume, depression in the chest cavity and overpressure in the abdominal cavity. Exhalation is considered to be a passive process, inhalation an active one. It means that the body spends more work on inhaling while, during the exhale, the body relaxes.

From the functional point of view, the breath can be divided into 3 sectors. Lower, middle and upper. The lower sector engages the muscles surrounding the abdominal cavity (diaphragm, abdominal muscles, pelvic floor, and lumbar spine). The central sector involves the chest muscles between the lower ribs (Th5 - Th12) and the corresponding muscles of the back. The upper sector includes the chest muscles, the pectoral girdle and the cervical muscles. This is important to consider when looking for possible causes of blockages in individual body segments. In breathing, there is a continuous breath wave (muscle activity) from the lower sector through the middle to the upper sector. At the location of a blockade one can observe a discontinuity of this wave form.

The diaphragm and thoracic spine play a significant role in breathing waves. The diaphragm is connected to the spine, and contraction of the diaphragm results in a deepening of the lumbar lordosis, which is being compensated by the straight and oblique abdominal muscles (they pull the pubic bone upward and thus reduce the angle of the lumbar curvature by slightly tilting the pelvis). During exhalation, an active extension of the thoracic spine helps to correct thoracic kyphosis. This shows the importance of proper breathing for the optimal alignment of the spine and the overall posture of the body. But is not all - there is a correlation between breathing and mental state.

Breathing is related to feelings - the mental state affects the rhythm and the depth of breathing. Emotional state thus affects the distribution of muscle tension and other physical functions. When anxious, breathing is accelerated, it is superficial and the upper respiratory type dominates. The respiratory type can be changed instantly, based on the current emotional state. On the other hand, when a person stays certain emotional states over a long period of time, it can lead to a permanent change in the breath stereotype.

You can also look at it from a different perspective - breathing exercises can help regulate the mental state.

Consider what is happening in times of anxiety:

- the positions of the neck, shoulders and chest change (the muscles are activated, the shoulders move forward into the protraction and also upwards, the diaphragm up).

- there is a typical closed position of the chest.

- the active exhalation results in the absence of a natural break between the inhale and exhale.

- the quality of pulmonary ventilation is reduced.

- there is a risk of bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory complications.

The diaphragm function will be impaired, which may result in reduced function of the internal organs.

At reduced diaphragm range of movement, the pelvic floor and the entire pelvic area suffer from decreased blood circulation, thus limiting the functioning of the organs in the pelvic bowl (sexual disorders, menstrual cycle disorders, haemorrhoids, urinary tract disorders, painful pelvic syndrome in women).

Change in respiratory functioning as a result of a change in the respiratory stereotype can affect the muscular tension in the muscles involved in the breathing process and this may promote the development of painful musculoskeletal conditions.

If we look from an anatomical point of view, the diaphysis of the diaphragm is in the thoracic spine, more precisely 10-12 chest vertebrae. At the same place we can find also m.transversus abdominis, m.quadratus lumborum and m.psoas major. These muscles affect the stability of the lumbar spine and are often in tension. People with anxiety are usually associated with a rise in muscle tension. This increased muscle tension leads to muscle contraction and to the compression of joints that potentiate the development of degenerative joint changes.

It can also lead to neuropathy due to reduced nervous microcirculation around the spine.

Summarised and underlined, breathing affects muscle tension, chest position, diaphragm work, and the associated quality of pulmonary ventilation and blood circulation in the abdominal cavity and pelvis. This blood circulation plays an important role in maintaining the proper functioning of all organs. In tension and anxiety, and associated short breath, disease may occur due to impaired function. For example, in the treatment of typical female illnesses or respiratory illness, stress, anxiety or depression leading to a deterioration of respiratory stereotypes must be considered as a possible cause. After eliminating all the organic causes of the disease, it is advisable to focus on breathing exercises and other activities to relax and improve the current state. A truly significant role in relaxation also plays a physical activity that we will focus on next time.

For now, JUST BREATHE, deep inhale and exhale...

Source and inspiration: STACKEOVÁ, Daniela. Fitness programy z pohledu kinantropologie. 3., dopl. a přeprac. vyd. Praha: Galén, c2014. ISBN 978-80-7492-115-5.

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