Worse For Breathing, Smoking or Sitting?
This blog post is continuing on the topic of potential health implications of sitting, and today we are talking about breathing. This topic is very applicable to the overall theme of “sitting is the new smoking”, since breathing is impacted by both of the above.
Breathing, like circulation, will happen on its own, whether you think about it or not. But, unlike circulation, you can actively change your breathing patterns moment to moment. For example, you can actively take a deep, relaxing breath; you cannot however consciously reduce or increase your hearth rate on a moments notice. This distinction is important to take advantage of, especially when sitting for long periods of time.
What is a Deep Breath?
First, lets define what a full, deep breath looks and feels like. Stand up, place your hands over your stomach, and breath in through your nose. While doing this, you should be actively breathing into your belly and feeling your hands move due to the expansion. Breath out through your mouth. Try this again, and release any tension you may notice in your shoulders or chest.
Since our lungs are physically located in our chest/behind our ribs, the common misconception is that your chest should be the area that expands and contracts when you breath. “Chest breathing” results in shallow breaths, which are not as efficient and require you to take more of them. If you can think of your body’s response to panic, part of this involves rapid, shallow breaths. Contrast this to what you just felt with the “belly breathing” which was intentional, and relaxed.
Posture and Breathing
Now, try this: sit down, up tall, shoulders back (good posture), place your hands on your stomach, and try to take that nice deep breath we walked through before. Feels different, right? More restricted, not as natural. Think about how a seated posture like the one pictured above impacts your breathing hour after hour, day after day.
Sitting compresses your abdominal cavity and rib cage, which naturally lends itself to more shallow breaths. The only way to counter the impacts of this posture is to take breaks, stand up, and spend some intentional time on your breathing.
Breathing and Mobility
Recently, while listening to The Maximus Podcast, I heard an interview with Dana Santas. One of Dana’s main areas of focus is the connection between breathing and mobility, and she has used these concepts to successfully training.
The basic idea focuses around mobility of your ribcage, and the relationship to breathing. Dana does a much better job explaining this, so I am going to directly quote her and link to the interview I found:
“Your ribcage position is dictated almost entirely by the quality of your breathing—essentially your ability to properly move your ribs during respiration to accommodate and facilitate diaphragm function. Your scapulae (shoulder blades) ride on your ribcage, so their position and your shoulder girdle function is also influenced by your breathing quality. If your breathing is consistently chest-oriented, your ribcage will be lifted and malpositioned, taking your scapulae with it. Muscles in your chest, neck, and upper back will be dysfunctionally recruited out of their primary roles/kinetic chains to hold your repositioned ribcage and scapulae in place, while assisting as accessory breathing muscles (since your diaphragm won’t be able to function properly).
This, of course, causes chronic tension, pain, and limitations in neck, back and shoulder mobility, while making you more susceptible to injury. All because of poor breathing! You can stretch out all of those muscles for temporary relief, BUT if you don’t permanently correct breathing mechanics, the pain and mobility limitations will remain chronic. This is why I work on breathing mechanics first and foremost. Instead of stretching those tight muscles (which would only give temporary relief, or worse, exacerbate injury risk), I can spend just two minutes working on breathing mechanics and immediately, significantly restore mobility.”
(Santas, 2017, Yoga Journal)
The thing that really blew my mind from Dana’s podcast interview was the most efficient position to take a deep breath. Take a look at my video overview of this topic to find out (you can skip to 5:10 if you just want to see this part)
Breathing and Sitting, What To Do About It
There is a common theme among all of these sitting posts, you need to take breaks from sitting. Here are some ideas to help facilitate deep breathing, every day and counter the impacts of sitting:
- Take a break at least every 30 minutes from sitting.
- During your breaks, take at least 5, deep belly breaths.
- Take a mental inventory of your shoulders and chest during these breaks, actively release any tension while taking deep breaths.
- Sit with good posture, this will result in better breathing than hunching over your computer.
Thanks for the read, please share with someone who needs it!