“People know how to breathe, people need to know how to breathe when they stop breathing…”
Ron Hruska – Postural Restoration Institute
On an average day, we take between 22,000 and 25,000 breathes. We repeat these numbers 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Over the course of a year, nearly 8 million of these rhythmic cycles occurs.
Yet something as fundamental as breathing still remains one of the most neglected and widely misunderstood areas of health, fitness and wellbeing.
Imagine swinging a golf club 8 million times a year. Even those at the very top of the sport biomechanically would show some signs of serious wear and tear with such repeated usage.
Consider therefore, the impact the repetitive strain of respiration may have on our bodily systems if even the simplest of dysfunctions is present with such high levels of repeated usage.
We each fall somewhere on a spectrum when it comes to our respiratory capacity, from the severely inflicted, to those aerobic powerhouses we see at the top of elite sports. Aside from the obvious aspect of keeping us alive, breathing is fundamental to how we move as humans beings.
At a foundational level, though we may not necessary appear it externally, we are ALL inherently asymmetrical.
Every system within the human body, how we see, breath, hear, move and many more, are all different side-to-side.
Underpinning these asymmetries is a right sided dominance (be careful not to confuse sidedness with handedness…) that stems from the very nature of our biology.
Some of us cope well with how our our bodies and environments interact within this asymmetrical framework, we rarely experience pain or suffer with symptoms such as breathing pattern disorders, we go on with life unaffected.
Others however, may compensate to survive using faulty joint position or altered function. They lack the ability to prevent the increasing dominance of this neurological-reflexive drive, pushing us deeper into these asymmetrical patterns.
These individuals experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, asthma, headaches, increased stress and anxiety, lower back pain, hip and shoulder impingement and jaw pain, amongst a host of others symptoms. All of which can often be routed back to faulty respiratory mechanics.
This is not to say in any way that asymmetry is purely negative, quite the opposite, we literally need it to function as we do. Asymmetry enables us to walk forward and back, side to side, twist and turn. It’s a fundamental component of what makes us human.
When we recognise this concept of asymmetrical systems, we can begin to explore how this can influence the way in which we not only move, but how we actually breathe.
Statically in terms of our organ structure, we see asymmetries in position and organisation such as heart (left) and liver (right), number of lung lobes per side (Right – 3, Left – 2), as well as a diaphragm in differing resting positions between the right (more domed – exhalation) and the left (flatter – inhalation).
The respiratory system is therefore optimised for different functions (inhalation/exhalation) across the two sides.
By understanding and appreciating asymmetry, it becomes a little clearer therefore to appreciate how learning to breathe optimally against these patterns, may be of value to us in a training perspective.
When we move, run and train, needing BOTH lungs to fully contribute in pumping oxygen throughout the body, in our pattern position we’re limited to the mechanical function of one combined lung. One side a powerful exhaler, the other, an effective inhaler.
We never truly get use of both in which they alternate function, inhaling and exhaling fully across both sides.
So, the goal of our breath training…
Firstly, we need to develop an awareness of how we breathe as an individual in relation to this natural respiratory asymmetry.
Can we take air into all quadrants of the thoracic cavity as we should? Or are we limited, and patterned, in how we breathe.
Are we able to learn how to move between a full breath cycle, taking air in as required and learning to fully exhale on BOTH sides.
If we can do this in isolation, on our backs, sides, all fours, can we also do it in standing, as we walk, and finally, as we exercise, maximising the use of both lungs regardless of asymmetrical function.
For a more in depth look at human asymmetry why not read our blog on Asymmetry in the Human Body, visit www.posturalrestoration.com or take a read of the following article, The Value of Blowing Up a Balloon to learn more about the importance of proper respiratory mechanics.