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Take Time to Focus on your Breathing

Posted on 31st March 2020 by

Now, more than any other time, we should regularly spend a few moments each day and think about our breathing.

The current change in our life styles will have a significant impact on our breathing, whether that is due to lower levels of activity from the imposed restrictions, or an increase in stress and anxiety due to the unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in.

Both of these scenarios will lead us to spending most of our time doing what we call Apical Breathing.  This is when the breathing is mainly confined to the upper chest. As a result of apical breathing, the accessory muscles in your shoulders are doing all the work without the pay-off of a deep breath. Since the inhalation is shallow, the body has to compensate by breathing more frequently. This creates a poorer exchange of oxygen and increase tension in our neck and shoulders. 

Image courtesy of Temple Health

Ideally we should spend regular periods of time doing what is known as Diaphragmatic Breathing.  This is when we use the diaphragm to lift and spread the ribs on inhalation and ease them back down on exhalation.  This allows the lungs to work more efficiently, utilising a larger proportion of the lungs resulting in more oxygen being transferred into the bloodstream and around the body.  It also reduces the work load of the muscles around our neck and shoulders.

Try these two approaches to improving your breathing technique, feel the benefits of increasing oxygen supply and reducing the tension in the muscles around your neck and shoulders.

Technique 1 ‘At Rest’

Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent up, feet flat on the floor. Place a folded towel or small pillow under your head. Place your hands across the lower half of your ribcage with the tips of your fingers slightly interlaced.  Breathe in and allow your lower ribs to expand widthways. Let your fingertips draw apart from one another slightly. Breathe out and allow your ribcage to sink inwards and downwards. Your fingertips may interlace slightly as you empty your lungs. Watch that you do not lift your breastbone as you breathe in. Instead imagine the back of your ribcage spreading wide into the floor underneath you.  Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed.

Once you have learned to do this exercise lying down you can then use this skill to improve your breathing when sat at your desk or when standing up.

Technique 2 ‘Being Active’

When we increase our activity levels we require more oxygen and therefore generally we employ more of our lung capacity to do this.

Current Government guidelines (as of 23rd March 2020) allow each individual to leave the house for exercise once a day. So a run, walk or cycle (within social distancing limits) are excellent ways of improving your breathing. If you are unable to do this then the following exercises can be done in your own home:

  • Star jumps
  • Step ups on the bottom step of the stairs
  • Repeated sit to stand from a chair
  • Skipping
  • Squat thrusts/burpees

The list is endless so see what you can come up with!


Speak Up and Speak Out About Stress

Posted on 1st November 2018 by

This week is National Stress Awareness Week, with Wednesday being National Stress Awareness Day. So here we take a look at what stress is really doing to our  National Stress Awareness Day bodies and how we can both recognise it and combat it.

What is stress?

Stress is anything which exerts pressure on us beyond our individual ability to cope. It has traditionally been thought of as a flight or fight response; increasing our alertness, muscle tone and heart rate to respond to a perceived threat. However modern-day stress can come in many forms such as workplace pressures, relationship issues, juggling family commitments or looking after a sick relative, which can all take their toll.

What happens when we are stressed?

When we are stressed our body releases chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are imperative for our survival, however if their levels are sustained for a prolonged period they will start to impact on our physical health and affect many different organs in our body.

Symptoms of stress

Symptoms of stress can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Indecisiveness
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic muscle pain
  • Over or under eating
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Reflux
  • Increased risk of diabetes, heart conditions and stroke
  • Increased susceptibility to colds and viruses

Can exercise help with stress?

Yes! Exercise helps lower our blood pressure, reduce the levels of stress hormones in our body, improve our mood, our muscle flexibility and tone, as well as distracting us from other stressors and helping us to get a good night’s sleep.

Great forms of stress-busting exercise include classes such as Pilates, tai chi and yoga, which focus on breathing and flexibility of the body. They also give us the opportunity to ‘check in’ with ourselves and become more aware of how we are feeling physically and mentally. Whilst this gives us some much needed me-time, classes can also be a great social opportunity which is perfect for boosting our mood!

The ISMA (international stress management association) has come up with 7 positive ways to influence stress

1. Change the thought – Change the outcome

This is the starting point, reprogramming your brain by replacing an unhelpful negative thought or belief with a new positive one. Use your imagination to visualise or ‘show’ your brain what you want. The power of the mind cannot be over-estimated!

2. Self-belief starts with you

This is an empowering way of taking more control in your life rather than relying on others to make you feel good. Do something fun or caring for yourself today!

3. Don’t just do what you did last year

Repeating what you always do will bring you the same outcome unless others change & this is not in your control. So if you didn’t like all that happened last year make plans & set new goals, do something different!

4. Deal with difficult decisions now, not later

“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today” We all know this but positive action is required to make it happen. Prioritize & do the difficult tasks first in the day so you have a clear focus for the rest of the day making you less stressed & more productive!

5. Find reasons to say “yes”

“I would love to but….” here comes the negative reason why you can’t! It can be a really positive experience to just say yes, if it is possible & what you want, then try to find ways that will allow you the opportunity, maybe you need others to persuade you, take control & decide for yourself!

6. Renegotiate

Stuck with what you have always had & now want a change? Look at learning to develop & use your assertive skills, ask for what you want, discuss your changing needs, expectations with yourself & others to reach the deal that works for you!

7. Flip it!

There are always two sides to every situation, sometimes more. Take time to look at all your options, don’t just assume, maybe ask others & make informed choices based on facts!

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