Correcting Paradoxical Breathing

Correcting Paradoxical Breathing
By Charlene Crane, LMT
Are you afflicted with a breath rhythm known as paradoxical breathing? The best way to figure out if this reverse breathing pattern applies to you is to check to see what position your diaphragm (the muscle at the base of the rib cage) is in during your normal resting inhalation.

If you’re exhaling with the diaphragm while inhaling with the thoracic muscles the abdominal muscles will have a tendency to be sucked in as your chest protrudes out. Such shortened breaths will result in deficient air flow in the lower chest and keep abdominal contents from moving downward towards the pelvis. This insufficient exchange of air lessens the lungs’ tidal volume and can put strain on the accessory respiratory muscles of the upper chest, particularly the scalene muscles, the neck muscles known for stabilizing the cervical spine against lateral movement and for elevating the first and second ribs during inhalation. Overuse of these supplementary breathing muscles can sometimes create neurovascular entrapments that may cause ulnar pain or tingling and numbness in the arms and hands.
To move air beyond the upper and lower chest and through your entire airway, try some deep abdominal breathing and then coordinated chest and abdominal breathing: Lie face up on a firm surface and breathe through an open mouth as you place one hand on the abdomen and one on the chest. Become aware of the paradoxical respiration pattern by sensing the movement of your hands. Is one rising as the other falls (as in paradoxical –or abnormal–breathing)? Are both hands rising and falling at the same time (ideal scenario of normal respiration)? Note how close your hands are during exhalation and how separated they are during inhalation. Positional feedback of the hands will help you to fully grasp and correct this pattern.
Sense the abdominal area by inhaling and exhaling with full breath while holding the chest fixed in a collapsed position…
Like this:

Without expanding the upper chest or allowing the sternum to rise, alternately contract the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. You can enhance this exercise by imagining an expansion of your “lateral bellows”—i.e., Thoracic ribs 10, 11 and 12, which all move outwards during full diaphragmatic inspiration. Ultimately the goal is to synchronize the chest and abdominal muscles to move to close to the same time, as opposed to in an alternating syncopated motion.
Another easy way to reinforce this coordinated breath movement of the chest and abdomen is to practice slow deep breathing while sitting in a chair with a firm flat seat. Roll forward on the seat by slowly tilting the hips down (exaggerate your lumbar curve and allow the hip flexors to open slightly) and draw in a slow deep breath. Holding this position as a deep inhalation is made allows the chest and lower pelvis to separate so that the diaphragm can easily contract while the abdomen protrudes. By rocking backward on the hips (abdominal curl or pelvis tuck movement) and rounding the lower back slightly one can then follow this with a deep exhalation. The abdominal contents are now pushed inward and upward against the diaphragm, thus helping the diaphragm to relax fully at the end of the breath wave.

Lying down on edge of a table or staircase landing version of this:


~ by charl7 on August 1, 2011.

2 Responses to “Correcting Paradoxical Breathing”

  1. Hello there! This article couldn’t be written any better! Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept talking about this. I’ll send this article to him.
    Fairly certain he’s going to have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi hungry!, Glad you found the post helpful. Since many people in our fast-paced American culture keep themselves in flight or flight survival preservation mode, with the sympathetic nervous system perpetually firing, it can tend to make for a huge swath of our population caught up in shallow breathing habits. Focusing on engaging the lower abdominal area in breath flow cycles is a great way to benefit many of our body’s physiological functions; including digestion, heart and respiratory rates, as well as increased blood flow to organs and extremities. If anyone suffers from symptoms related to the physiological effects of too many continual stress triggers; such as headaches, muscle tension and pain, chest pain, fatigue, upset stomach or problems with sleeping, taking some time out of the day to quietly place one’s hands on the lower abdominal area and to channel inhalation and exhalation beyond the bottom of the rib cage and into the solar plexus / deep abdominal cavity area will help alleviate problems and bring the body back into a more restful, more highly functioning status.

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