Updated: Jan 23, 2022
I was inspired this week by a song, one from a band I had not heard in a little while, but it instantly became fully immersed it again, Pearl Jam. When Jason and I where younger (and still are)... 😊… bands like these formed the soundtrack of our lives. So, whilst pondering what topics to write about the title of this song stuck with, “Just Breathe”. It is part of my daily practice, treatment sometimes is uncomfortable, and I can feel my clients hold their breath whist bracing, expecting pain. Asking them to take a deep relaxing breath, focussing on exhaling, I can feel the tension subside. That is just one aspect, respiratory physiotherapy being the more better-known aspect.
Breathing is such an automatic action, one most of us do not pay too much attention to until we can’t. It seems so relevant to now - literally and figuratively. I often feel like I was holding my breath during almost the entire 2020. We subconsciously hold our breath with pain, anxiety, physical and emotional stress. This in turn creates a heightened state of vigilance (more sensitive nervous system), one that if it lasts too long can have side effects – like that pain in your neck…
All forms of relaxation and meditation techniques involve breathing control. This is no accident. In its simplest form, just taking a deep conscious breath can reduce stress, physical and emotional. The technique in labour and delivery of breathing control is historical proof of its benefits, so why not apply them to other circumstances?
So, the phrase, “just breathe” is a very good and important instruction we need to repeat to ourselves.
Education Focus: Breathing
Breathing: “Movement of air in and out of the thoracic cavity”
Respiration: “the exchange of gases in the lungs”
Breathing can be profound when done consciously. Slow breathing has a medical influence on your heart and autonomic system and physiological parameters. We don’t fully appreciate this simple physiological action until we can’t get that breath. Covid has brought this to the fore. Anyone who has experienced or witnessed a severe asthmatic attack or someone with COPD trying to get a breath under stress knows how simply terrifying it is.
Problems with breathing and respiration can have long term consequences. We can measure the amount of oxygen absorbed into our bodies with a pulse oximeter (something many homes have now added to the medicine chest, thanks to covid). This measures the blood oxygen concentration in the finger we test it on, as well as a heart rate. We should realise too that this % is affected by our peripheral circulation too, so it is not entirely accurate in persons or at a time when circulation to our fingers is poor. In those cases, a doctor will request a blood test to assess your blood oxygen. Problems of low oxygen (under 95%), when accompanied with a high heart rate / fever, we need to seek medical help.
What can you do when you need a moment to catch your breath?
In relaxed sitting, close your eyes to minimise outside influence, focus and concentrate on your heartrate/breathing, take a deep breath in through your nose, hold for a second or two (longer if able) then exhale slowly (pursed lips recommended)
Other positions are more specific to conditions and should not be used without guidance.
Adapt a breathless position.
High side lying (on lots of pillows)
Sitting, leaning forward, arms rested on a table and feet on the floor.
Standing, leaning forward / sideways with arms supported on a high surface, feet apart
The first point has been very helpful to me in moment of physical or emotional stress / panic attack, nausea and strenuous exercise. It absolutely calms you down with repetition it can slow your heart rate. So, when Jason takes you up that mountain, or pushes you into exhaustion, just breathe….
Dyspnoea – Physiopaedia
The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human M. Russo, D. Santarelli, D O’Rourke –
Breath Meditation: A great way to relieve stress