Breath is a narrative which weaves through our lives, from our first breath to our last.
As we take time to pause and feel the space within our lives, this seems a good opportunity to focus on our breath, to look at our breathing patterns and ponder on where it all began.
In the womb we begin developing our lungs from 3 – 5 weeks. From tiny buds, branches develop which become our bronchi and bronchioles, all our airways are created by 16 weeks. then our air sacs begin to form.
Babies don’t breathe in the womb, oxygen is received via the placenta, yet we do ‘make lungs movements, as though practising breathing’ (1) In the womb our lungs are filled with fluid, upon our first breath this fluid is replaced by air.
Breathing is regulated by our medulla oblongata in the lower half of our brainstem. Breathing is fundamentally an unconscious process, luckily for us we don’t need to think to breath. The main purpose of respiration is gaseous exchange, bringing life giving oxygen into the cells within our body and taking away the waste products of cellular respiration, carbon dioxide.
This process takes place in the alveoli, small air sacs, surrounded in networks of capillaries – blood vessels.
These air sacs are at the end of our bronchioles, the branches from our bronchus, which branch out from our trachea – the wind pipe. It all looks wonderfully like the structure of an upside down tree. Trees the great lungs of the earth, as necessary for life on earth as breath is for us.
The main muscles involved in respiration are our diaphragm and intercostals. This is a wonderful animation of how we breath by Jessica Wolf. As the diaphragm and intercostals contract more space is created in our thoracic cavity. Our diaphragm actually domes downwards into our abdominal cavity as it contracts. This increase in space causes a difference in pressure from our internal and external environment, air rushes in to equalise this pressure. As the muscles relax the thoracic space becomes less and air rushes out. So this is the mechanics of breathing. Yet we can control and regulate our breath through conscious action. We can also hinder and restrict our breathing pattern with less healthy outcomes.
As adults our lungs have the capacity for 5 to 6 litres of air yet we often use only 0.5 to 1L of that capacity. Imagine all of that wonderful extra oxygen we would have circulating in our cells and tissues if we breathed to our full capacity.
It is easy to get into poor breathing patterns, using the muscles in our upper shoulders and neck to lift the rib cage, creating tension and sometimes pain in this area. Yet if we breathe deeply into our abdomen and use our abdominal muscles to move the breathe, fully expanding and contracting our diaphragm, we will tone our abs and create energy as we take in more breath. Imagine your rib basket expanding in the sides and back of your body, as you take in full breaths.
Try placing your hands onto your lower abdominal area and fill this space like a balloon as you breathe in, you can also feel the back ribs moving out and up, contract the abdominal muscles to force the breath out.
Try to keep your shoulders relaxed. Take 10 of these conscious deep breaths in the morning, and at times throughout the day if you feel yourself overwhelmed or your emotions taking over.
During the Somatic Movement sessions we look at breathing patterns, through observations and hands on instruction.