hot air balloonBreathing. We hardly take a moment to consider it unless a bit of food or drink “goes down the wrong pipe,” as they say.

But breathing is essential for life. Respiration is the most basic of bodily functions, ranking right up there with your heartbeat. In our society, we tend to pay lots of attention to the external . . . our clothing, hair, makeup, accessories. But what about everything that’s happening on the inside? Like breathing? Interestingly, our natural, normal and healthy breathing patterns tend to change as we grow from babies to children to adults.

Consider a newborn baby who has no concept of those external things. According to Bret Lyon, PhD, “If you watch a baby breathe, you will see a remarkable sight. With each inhale, the baby’s belly fills with air like a balloon, the pelvis rocks forward, the legs open. The chest rises and then falls, like a raft on the ocean. This is natural oceanic ‘full-body breathing.'”

So, how do adults breathe, anyway? Lyon explains that adults have a tendency for shallow breathing, mostly in the chest instead of allowing the diaphragm to move. Even worse, many adults actually stop breathing for a short period up to 100 times each day. That can’t be good!

Why does this happen? The answer is two-part. The first is conscious: we like to look good. We don’t want our bellies pooching out with every breath. How many of us have “sucked in” the gut to look thinner or to wear those favorite old jeans that are now a size too small? Even though doing this may make you look better on the outside, it constricts breathing. The second reason is subconscious: stress, worry and even seeking others’ approval can cause an unconscious tightening of our muscles, in turn constricting our natural breathing patterns.

What’s the answer? Focus on breathing naturally, using your diaphragm to reduce stress and loosen tight muscles. For more information, visit bodybreathbeing.com.

How can we take a lesson from the newborn? According to Lyon, use oceanic breathing patterns. Charlene Crane, LMT, uses a similar analogy to correct what she terms “paradoxical breathing.”

Paradox: contrary to common belief or expectation (Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper)

Does this mean that paradoxical breathing isn’t really breathing? No . . . but perhaps it is best described as a pattern of breathing that doesn’t fully accomplish the job that breathing should accomplish, like cleansing the body of toxins. To put it simply, we could call it inefficient breathing.

The way Crane explains it, shallow, inefficient breathing patterns in adults and the resulting “insufficient exchange of air lessens the lungs’ tidal volume and can put strain on the accessory respiratory muscles of the upper chest.” This can result in symptoms such as pain, tingling and numbness in the arms and hands. She goes on to explain the role of the diaphragm in breathing and the importance of “helping the diaphragm to relax fully at the end of the breath wave.” To learn Crane’s simple breathing technique, visit breatheeasymassage.wordpress.com and click on the August 2011 article . . . and avoid paradoxical breathing.

To summarize, avoid shallow breathing and dive into a natural oceanic breathing pattern to improve your lungs’ tidal volume and relax your diaphragm at the end of the breath wave. You’ll breathe easier. Hmmm . . . sounds like a tropical vacation.

Finally, at Body Healing Power, many of our services are designed to reduce stress and relieve the tight muscles associated with shallow breathing. And remember, At Body Healing Power, we help your body heal itself naturally.