00:01:41 - Listener Question – Jump to section
00:02:41 - A brief lesson on breath mechanics - Jump to section
00:22:32 - Breathing movement is like other movement – Jump to section
00:24:09 - Cardio - Katy's recommendation – Jump to section
00:26:15 - Katy's article on the need for more cardio – Jump to section
00:31:46 - Suggestions for moving more while "in place" - Jump to section
00:33:10 - Free Class and reduced-price Virtual Studio - Jump to section
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE SHOW:
Sign up for Katy’s newsletter at NutritiousMovement.com
Hello! I am Katy Bowman and this is the Move Your DNA podcast. I am a biomechanist and the author of Move Your DNA and seven other books on movement. On this show, we talk about how movement works on the cellular level, how to move more, and how to move more of your parts. As well as how movement works between bodies and in the world, also known as movement ecology. All bodies are welcome here. Are you ready to get moving?
KATY: (sings) Recording a podcast ... in my house ... with my family ... also in the house.
Hello, my friends! On today’s show, we’re continuing with a movement on the minds of many folks, and that is breathing. If you haven’t listened to episode 121: Move Your Breathing Parts Better, or if you haven’t read the article by the same name, you can start with that first.
In this show, we are pulling up some of the breathing nuggets in an episode from last year as well as some new pieces, just to keep teasing out this main idea in your head: Breathing is the most important movement, but the movement of your whole body is what sets the potential for your breathing movements. Given what is understood, we can’t get away with talking about breathing without also talking about sedentary culture.
As always, you can find the transcript and supporting links under Podcast Transcripts at NutritiousMovement.com.
I'm a yoga teacher and I have been slowly learning natural breath mechanics and am especially interested in proper functioning as it relates to the pelvic floor. My current understanding is that on an inhalation the diaphragm and pelvic floor descend, and on exhalation, the pelvic floor gently contracts as the diaphragm returns back to its resting position. (So really, I'm just gonna break in here: So that would be maybe an upward motion on both those anatomical parts.) Recently another yoga teacher informed me that she learned from a biomechanist who works with yoga teachers taught that the pelvic floor actually contracts with the inhale and relaxes on the exhale. So, now I'm totally confused. Any chance that you could create some clarification for me? Thank you so much in advance.
So, I hope I can create some clarification for you. I'm going to give just a brief lesson on breath mechanics.
So by breathing I mean the oxygen that you're pulling from outside of your body in through your nose and mouth that's making its way to your lungs. But before we even get to that point, I'll just remind you that the reason you're breathing is to deliver oxygen on the cellular level. So that's, that's the end goal if there are end goals. That's the end goal of the process of what you pull in your mouth - it's not just what's coming in and out of your mouth. It's the fact that it's being delivered down to the cells and is being distributed by the cardiovascular system. Right? That's what the cardiovascular system is doing. That's why there's this relationship between how your heart and lungs are working together. But, so let's step back to breathing. Taking a breath. So you've got your lungs inside of your thoracic cavity. So if you think of your torso as your thoracic cavity on top of your abdominal cavity on top of your pelvic cavity. Cavity meaning container or a hole. So you've got walls to your thoracic cavity. Right? You've got the top and you've got the sides and you've got the bottom. The bottom of your thoracic cavity is your diaphragm. The walls are, if you just move your hands up above your waist, you can kind of palpate around your ribcage. So you've got your ribs and you've got all of the musculature and connective tissue and skin. Right? So you have that whole space.
And so in order to get oxygen to come from outside of your body in through your mouth and nose, your thoracic cavity has to increase in size. It has to get bigger. And when it gets bigger it reduces the pressure, right? It pulls oxygen in your body. And when you do that, the lungs change shape. So the lungs are inside of the thoracic cavity. And as you pull oxygen in, it's kind of going into the bag - if you imagine like a balloon, your lungs are balloons. As oxygen comes in, the lungs themselves change shape. So you've got a lot of things changing shape. And so it's kind of a challenging leap but, as a biomechanist, I really think in terms more of shape and geometry than physiology. So an exercise physiologist and a biomechanist can be talking about the same thing but maybe the way they perceive what's happening is a little bit different.
So when I think of breathing, I'm thinking of the fact that your thoracic cavity is changing shape and that the lungs inside of it are changing shape. And there are different shapes that can occur. Because you can increase the volume of your thoracic cavity in different ways. And when we break down ways we tend to kind of make the models very simple. So I believe I taught this on a youtube video a long time ago. So you could think of your shoulders lifting up in front of your ears. And sometimes if I'm really tense or stressed I'll watch myself breathe and I can see my rib cage kind of moving up towards my face. I can see my shoulders elevating up towards my ears. But my individual ribs themselves, the ribs that make up the rib cage, they can also rotate. And when they rotate, my shoulders don't have to come up. I can also make my thoracic cavity larger by each one of those rotating; they rotate ... it's kind of hard to explain it using audio versus visual. I usually use my body. But it's kind of similar to - I've heard blinds used as an analogy. If you're twisting the handle on blinds, they'll flap up and flap down. It's kind of like that except that they're not all stacked in series. When they flap open, the one that flaps open is not sitting directly beneath it. It's kind of displaced outwards. So that when that one flaps open, the circumference of your rib cage is greater. And when each one of those ribs are doing that you end up with a greater circumference to your rib cage. So you change the volume of your thoracic cavity. Because each one of those ribs has kind of flared outward. So your rib cage, if you had a measuring tape around it with each breath, you would see that the circumference is getting bigger and getting smaller. Bigger, smaller. And then also you have a diaphragm, right? That is the bottom of your thoracic cavity. So the diaphragm if you imagine kind of a hump. Kind of like a mountain of flesh, it can contract and drop downward. Right? So then if you had a container where the bottom of it was filled by some of your diaphragm, then the diaphragm contracted and moved out of the way, then that would also give you more space in this room. It helps for me when I think of volumes to think about a room. Inside your thoracic cavity where your lungs live is a room. But the walls are all flexible. So you can get that to change shape to allow for more space for the lungs to deploy but something has to get out of the way. The diaphragm, the ribs, the shoulders up to your ears to kind of pull away from your diaphragm. Any one of those three things and really a combination of all three is how you would get your maximum volume change. So you've got that changing shape of your thoracic cavity. But keep in mind that the way that the lungs change shape is gonna depend on the amount of oxygen that you breathe in. So a shallow breath is gonna move your lungs a little bit. A really big breath is gonna make your lungs - they kind of deploy down in your body, right? And so if you're not really breathing a tremendous amount, then you're not gonna be working through your lungs (I'm gonna put air quotes around this) "range of motion." So you have a range of motion of your lungs. In order to use the full range of motion of your lungs, you would want to be using your full range of motion of breath. And so that would, on one hand, be based on the volume that you're pulling in. You could look at it strictly as volume. So if you were carrying a ... if you were running up a mountain or walking and just carrying sixty or seventy pounds, you're gonna need to pull in more oxygen. You're going to find that you are - the volume of oxygen that you're pulling in is greater. So that's one change in shape. But we also have this thoracic cavity need to change shape. And the way that your thoracic cavity changes shape depends on what it is that you're doing. So there's a lot of discussion going on right now about natural breath. What's natural breathing? That question from the yoga instructor. I'm trying to understand natural breath. What happens during a natural breath. And it really depends on the context. Because, like I said, if I have my arms full of something and I'm working very hard, or if I have one arm carrying a very heavy load but the other arm not, then the way my ribcage is going to change shape, the way my really my thoracic cavity really is changing shape, depends on what all my parts are doing. When the thoracic cavity changes shape, you know you're not just a floating thorax. You have an abdomen beneath you. So if the diaphragm moves down, right, that's one of the ways that you increase the volume of your thoracic cavity, when the diaphragm moves down, now you've increased the pressure in the abdominal cavity. Right? So there's kind of a domino effect. And of course, everyone can deal with the diaphragm moving down in different ways. If you also, simultaneously, let the abdomen move forward. So I've heard belly breathing is a term for this. So if your diaphragm drops down and your abdomen moves forward, then you're not going to have necessarily that load then be continuously transferred down to your pelvic floor. But if you don't allow your abdomen to breathe ... if you don't allow your abdomen to displace, the front of your abdominal musculature to relax and move forward, and that stays tense and then your diaphragm comes down, then there's a greater load placed on your pelvic floor which then would, all things being equal, create a response of your pelvic floor to tense.
Any time you increase the load to your pelvic floor it can respond back. So I can see very easily how the diaphragm moving down, in some individuals, would cause the pelvic floor to contract against that load. So there would just be an overall increase in abdominal or pelvic tension. But if you relax your abdomen, then you wouldn't necessarily see that pelvic floor tense. So I think we might be trying to oversimplify with what's happening during a natural breath because it depends on the state of all of the tissues.
And I just want to say one more thing about breath. And again, I wrote in Move Your DNA, "do we really need cardiovascular exercise?" And I would argue that no, we do not actually need cardiovascular exercise. What we need is our heart and our lungs to be taken through a particular range of motions. Taken through their ranges of motions in the same way that I want to make sure that all my joints, my ankles, and my knees, and my elbows, and my shoulders, the way that I can keep all of those parts working well is by moving all of them fully. Which would mean through their full range of motion. That if you are looking at what a natural breath is, in the same way, you would say what's natural shoulder use, that you would at this point, at least through the lens of some of the way that I describe movement, would kind of understand that the natural way of using your shoulders is not only volume related, not only "oh you need to be moving it multiple times throughout the day and at a certain distribution" but that there would be certain angles or certain motions that would be called upon. So, one of the reasons we have so many ways to breathe is so that you can be breathing while you're doing lots of motions.
So keep in mind that these questions and the way we're forming our information about natural breathing mechanics and really all human mechanics is done currently in a completely sedentary culture. So the models of breathing that we're using is often in un-moving bodies with very low oxygen demand. Right? If you sit in a chair all day, in the same way that you use the ranges of motion of your knees and your hips in a repetitive way, you're using a repetitive breath shape. The volume that you're pulling in over and over and over again and the way that your thorax is changing shape and really your abdominal cavity and your pelvic cavity - it's just all very repetitive. You're just taking the same shallow breath. And why do you have a shallow breath? Because breath is coming in as fuel to the movement that you're doing. So it's not fuel in maybe the way that are used to thinking - about caloric fuel. But it's part of the mechanism that allows moving to occur. So if you don't move very much, then you don't need that much breath. But obviously somewhere along the line we've recognized our need for breathing exercise in the same way that we've figured out we need to exercise our hips and exercise our shoulders, and exercise our spines, and exercise our feet. We're trying to take our breathing parts through their full range of motion in kind of a very unnatural context. Meaning in a natural model, your need for oxygen and these changes in shapes - what's happening to your pelvic floor and your abdominal musculature and the diaphragm and the muscles between the ribs - is dependent on the movement that you're doing. And so if we go back to me walking with something very heavy up a hill, my breathing shape, if I'm carrying a very heavy load on my back, is going to be a different breathing shape than if I have a very heavy load, that same load, only in my left arm. I'm gonna not be able to maybe have a full range of motion of my ribs on my left side if I'm holding in my left arm, so my right rib cage is gonna have to move more to still allow for that volume change. And then when I switch that load to my right arm, now because my right arm and the way that I'm holding it is influencing the leverage of all the musculature on that right side, I'm gonna have to move the left side more. So again, breath, the shape of breath and the questions that you have about what's happening in my pelvic floor and my truck and my ribcage, again, depends on what the arms and the legs are doing - the extra load to the body.
And now imagine that my demand for oxygen is going up because I'm moving a lot of my parts more. Let's say that I'm chopping wood. If any of you have ever chopped wood, you'll know, you've got a dominant side. There's a lot of twisting. Or if you've ever done a ton of twisting work where your heart rate is coming up because your demand for oxygen is great, but halfway through the bulk of those breaths, it's such a core intense exercise, that there's no phase for a relaxed breath, because you're using your abdomen quite intensely to stabilize your spine and a haul a heavy load up and over your shoulder to bring an ax down. So in this case, because my abdomen is so intensely participating in the movement that's increasing my demand for oxygen, then the shape potential for my rib cage is going to be much different. My diaphragm has a lot more resistance in this case because the diaphragm can move down a lot more easily if all the other stuff gets out of the way. If your abdomen can move out of the way, then your diaphragm doesn't have to contract against the tension of the abdomen being held in place by the abdominal wall contracting. And believe me, this would be so much easier if I could just videotape my body showing you all these different things.
So I think the easiest takeaway here is that one: I don't think there is a natural breath model. I mean it certainly helps to simplify breathing when you first start.
So I try to start with you have this cavity. These cavities that have to change position but then you have to kind of learn what the parts are doing relative to the other parts. And then if I have my waist twisted, or even if you're in a spinal twist, just a seated exercise, and you go to try to breathe that same shallow, sitting at your desk breath, you're gonna find that your abdomen can't move. And so for many people when they start doing things like our adjusting their rib position. Bringing it into a neutral rib cage, dropping your ribs, or they're doing hanging, or they're doing twisting, they're like, "I can't breathe." And what's happening, I would say in most cases, is that you have one pathway for breath because you have only certain parts of your body that are mobile and able to move because you don't really challenge all of your breath shapes because we don't take lots of shapes with our intensity of movement or exercise. We tend to do the same shape. And so if your body is in the same shape of exercise all the time, then the breath to drive that exercise is also the same shape. So by cross-training your exercise, especially when they are very diverse. Like it's one thing to cross-train: I'm cycling. Now I'm running. But your torso is in the same position for both of those exercises. So it's cross-training on one level, but it's not cross-training on another level. So it just depends on how many pieces you're observing when you label something. So that seated twist or these other instances where people can't breathe, if you're so dependent on your abdomen needing to relax in order to let your diaphragm down, because the muscles in between your ribs don't move then as soon as you disable that abdominal relaxation, as soon as you hold the ribs down in place and your rectus abdominis tenses, now you're breath has nowhere to go. And so of course, just if I've never said it before, breathing is the one thing you want to make sure that you can always do. So then you lose that form so you can continue to have that breath. So that's why we have a lot of exercises in Diastasis Recti and some of our new programs where it's like we are going to work on the muscles between the ribs. Because if the shoulder girdle and those inner costal muscles, which are the muscles between the ribs, aren't mobile, then you're missing kind of like a third of all the ways that you can breathe. And so I think a lot of times for many people, especially again, that chair baggage, includes the way we're breathing. And also where we're tending to take most of our breathing exercise and breathing and understanding some breathing is also during seated exercises where the oxygen demand is still very low and we're trying to just arbitrarily increase breath rates to get the exercise to move those parts but they're not a reflexive response to an actual increase in demand. I can sit here and hyperventilate. I can (breath, breath, breath) I can make than an exercise in the same way that I can get myself running without environmental stimulus. I can just choose to do it with my mind. But that's different than if I were to just pick up a load or walk up a hill quickly, I would still get that same breath rate, but it would be different than me sitting still and doing it.
So I'm not sure if that's answering anyone's question specifically. But if we were in a room together, I would need to lay that down before we had any more discussions about what's happening during a natural breath. We want all of these breath pathways open for you. But opening the breath ways isn't really the point. The point is to be drawing in the breath. The point is to be taking yourself through lots of different loads. On the low and on the high end while doing or creating lots of diverse shapes with your body so that you are not only getting all of the variety and geometry of your skeletal muscles but that you're getting the range and shape through your smooth muscle as well. Especially cardiac muscle of your heart and the smooth muscle of your lungs.
Okay. I'm gonna stop it there, and we'll keep working on it together over time.
Ok, I was about to say in short, but that was a very long answer that I knew would fill an entire podcast. If I had to come up with - I know I always say the takeaway is this and then I give 17 different takeaways.
We tend to measure them, again, as percentages of heart rate, but what happens is that when you think that you need a certain VO2 max or when we take a behavior of a group of people and look only at their heart rate or their VO2 max, and then try to duplicate their heart rate or their VO2 max and instead of the behaviors that got them to those heart rates or VO2 max. And I'm thinking of the Hadza specifically which are the hunter-gathering tribes where a lot of this data about just really fit moving populations who have very few diseases. They've got great low-risk factors for many diseases. Certainly cardiovascular disease. Is that what I think we're missing and what I wrote in a paper that came out last year was that if we don't think of movement in terms of geometry, then it makes it very challenging to compare all movements. We've kind of muddled the water a little bit where we've broken assessing movement to sometimes geometry and sometimes measuring simple measures - which I understand why we use things like heart rate and VO2 max because they're easy data to collect. But because movement is a geometrical phenomenon when you don't normalize and compare all movements with the same - when you don't compare apples to apples across the board it makes it challenging.
We don't really need cardio so much. We definitely need to be deploying our lungs fully. They don't need to be deployed fully all the time. That's why distribution matters. But if you never really get into that full ... think of your lungs as a tissue that needs to stretch. And there are stretch receptors in there, and there are stretch receptors that work harmoniously and communicate with your heart rate. Right? Because the amount of stretch in your lungs is gonna dictate how much work your heart has to do. Because if you have low volume of oxygen, then you have to circulate it faster. So there's definitely the relationship between those two pieces. So just, I mean, move more, move more of you. Move in more challenging ways. We can get an increase in our cardiovascular performance having our heart, our stroke volumes change, which is maybe a technical term. Just think of the shape of the heart. It doesn't need to always push the same all of the time. There should be some fluctuation throughout the day. The same thing goes for your lungs. But I think that our lack of arm use, while we're breathing, has really informed the breathing model that we have going on right now. So if you are following the advent, you're gonna notice that we're going a little heavier this year. We're going heavier with our arms. Because the range of motion of your shoulders, what you're doing with your arms when you are doing something hard is where you're gonna start to see more variety in breath shapes.
And to that listener question earlier on, what your pelvic floor and your abdomen and your diaphragm, and the muscles between your ribs and your shoulders are doing is depending on which activity you're partaking in when you are increasing that demand for oxygen.
Ok, so here we are back in 2020, and I wanted to sum up the ideas in both of these breathing podcasts with some simple how-tos when it comes to moving your body every day for better breathing.
So I'm gonna read a part of that article for you:
Do humans need “cardio?” It depends. What do you mean by “cardio?” Do you think of cardio as a type (or mode) of exercise? Or do you think of cardio as any movement that uses your heart and lungs more?
For many, “cardio” is a period of time where they move their body rhythmically and in a way that increases the demand for oxygen. (So, running, mountain biking, Stairmaster, etc.) Specifically, the parts that are moving rhythmically need more oxygen to move in this repeated way. These moving parts get the oxygen they need, the heart and its vessels gets the movement they need, and your whole body completes a task (note: as I've explained it in Move Your DNA and Movement Matters, moving used to have more purpose to it; so now the physically demanding “tasks” we tend to complete are the exercises themselves, vs. getting our bodies fit while doing something that gets us the things we need, like food, water, shelter, etc.).
So increasing the movement of your heart and lungs (or as I think of it, taking them through a greater range of their possible motions) is essential, but I don’t believe this is a full “healthy heart” program. I don't think doing cardio is the full healthy heart program. If you're only doing cardio as it’s commonly thought of, we might not be doing all we can for our hearts.
While your feet and ankles are not included in the way that we’ve classified the "circulatory system" or the “cardiovascular system,” the motion of the feet supplements the work of the heart by helping blood pump back up against gravity. So in this way, the various movements of the body (including the what's happening below your ankles) are part of how your cardiovascular system works.
So in this article that I'm reading to you, I go on to talk about taking the heart and arteries and veins through their ranges of motion. You can read the article Do We Really Need Cardio? In full on my website NutritiousMovement.com, but it’s just this idea of our non-musculoskeletal system having parts that move and have ranges of motion that I’m trying to clarify for you, dear listener, so I’m going to stop reading that piece here and I'm gonna come back to tying it all together.
In the piece that I was just reading I was focusing on the movements of the circulatory system. So the heart, the kardia, but you can just replace the word HEART with LUNG as the mechanism is the same. The stiffness of parts and/or the lack of movement of the body as a whole means the movement of the heart and arteries are altered and the same goes for your lungs. The stiffness of various parts throughout your body and the lack of whole-body movement means your breathing movements are limited. If you limit your breathing movements over time soon you lose the ability to call on dynamic breathing movements when you need them.
So right now many places have folks sheltering in place. I'm in place with my family. I'm recording this in my house. But I'm also letting all the sounds of what "in place" sounds like for so many people. This is one of them. And I started my movement recommendations with the most simple: like how to vary how you’re positioning yourself throughout the day while in place for more movement. I was also encouraging people to move your whole body as much as you can in place, by maximizing walking opportunities as your location allows. But if we were going to go lung-specific, I’d leave you with an almost exact set of tips that closed my cardio article, only slightly edited for better breathing. Which means I mostly just take out the word heart and put the word lungs in there.
Work on your body parts’ mobility, so that each part is able to contribute to your range of breathing shapes. So go print out the 8 better-breathing exercises found at the bottom of the article Move Your Breathing Parts Better. Hang it up where you walk by it regularly every day, and then do these moves. You can do them multiple times per day. You don't have to do all 8 at once. If you walk by, just pick one. And just make sure that you're varying the exercise. We tend to be drawn to the one exercise that's easiest and we maybe don't do equally the movement that we find the most challenging which is the movement that we probably need the most.
and my other tip is to
So you end up having the same demand for oxygen, but by limiting or restricting certain movement parts, you end up moving other parts more. Which is why varying your carry is so key. Walk a close hill if you’ve got one nearby. Don't always pick the flat and easy routes. Get something that, again, gets your breath rate up. Or just get down and up from the floor as many times you can in 2 minutes. And when that gets easy, hold something a little heavy as you get up and down off the floor for 2 minutes.
And, to help keep everyone moving well while at home, we’ve dropped the price of our Virtual Studio Membership from $30 to $9 per month for three months from when you sign up. You can use the code BE-WELL2020, that’s all capital letters and then put a hyphen between BE and Well. So B E hyphen W E L L and the numbers two zero two zero. Head to the show notes for more information on any of this.
So My fellow earthlings, my fellow humans, and my friends: Be well and breathe well. KB out.
This has been Move Your DNA with Katy Bowman, a podcast about movement. Hopefully, you find the general information in this podcast informative and helpful but it is not intended to replace medical advice and should not be used as such.