Breath Control

One of the most important lessons I learned as an athlete was the importance of breath control
for performance. Breathing properly maximizes the amount of oxygen available to the brain
and working muscles. Breath control is also important for recovery and reducing your
perception of chronic pain.

Most of us assume that since we have been breathing since birth, by the time we reach
adulthood we’re experts. Not true. Most people breath inefficiently, taking air in using the
upper chest muscles as opposed to the diaphragm: the giant breathing muscle at the base of
the sternum. While you might be able to take in equivalent amounts of air by increasing your
respiration rate, the diaphragm is by far the best tool for the job.



The diaphragm looks and functions like a giant tent. If you place a hand over the upper part of
your belly (right beneath your rib cage) and inhale deeply through your belly, you can feel the
tent-like diaphragm fill up with air. Now exhale while pushing on the diaphragm with your
hand, trying to expel as much air as you can. The more efficiently you exhale, the more air you
can take in on the next breath.

If you are used to breathing through your upper chest, diaphragmatic breathing will feel
unnatural at first. As an older woman, I remember my mother telling me that breathing through
my belly was unladylike. She also suggested I wear a girdle if I wanted to have a shot at
marriage. At 110 pounds, I can say now that both ideas were misguided.

Deep breathing is one way to reduce stress by taking control of your respiration. It can help you
initiate sleep and get back to sleep if you wake up in the middle of the night with your mind on
a hamster wheel. If you have an important meeting or presentation coming up, a few deep
breaths before the start will help you to focus on the task at hand and think more clearly. It can
also help with white coat anxiety during visits to the doctor.

For more information on diaphragmatic breathing and other relaxation techniques, check out
chapter 6 of the back pain management book.

Nina Russin, a veteran journalist for over 30 years, is currently pursuing her doctoral degree at
Arizona State University College of Health Solutions.

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