00:04:05 - What is Breathing? – Jump to section
00:07:00 - What are the Breathing Parts - Jump to section
00:08:13 - Get Your Parts Breathing More!– Jump to section
00:09:09 - Breathing Shapes with Galina Denzel – Jump to section
00:13:42 - Bigger Breathing Movements – Jump to section
00:16:32 - Arm Movements and the Rib Cage - Jump to section
00:19:25 - Thoracic Stretch (Katy's favorite) - Jump to section
00:22:21 - Hanging and Breathing - Jump to section
00:24:37 - Activating Intercostal Muscles (Katy's other favorite) - Jump to section
00:29:03 - Log Pullover - Jump to section
00:30:28 - Posture - Jump to section
00:32:09 - Keep Breathing, Discounts, and A Free Class - Jump to section
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE SHOW:
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Well hello there. 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. And 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?
Hello friends! What’s been happening in your neck of the woods? It is surreal to think that just last month I was here, talking about my 440-mile, walking all over the place, as I please, 10-mile a day adventure. And in a mere month, I’m recording this podcast in my house, children afoot, after being mostly in or around my house, not walking 10 miles or really that many miles at all most days.
But that all being said I’m returning to the airwaves, from my house, full of kids and school and spouses and working, to share a little bit about breathing.
Now breathing is always relevant, but mechanics of breath are very relevant right now. And, I wrote a 2000 word article on how important it is, but I feel like I’ve spent way too much time reading online these days, and thought maybe you have too, and so I thought that I would read you this article and it’s 8 exercises to help your breathing parts move better.
So, I wanted to see if I could turn a written piece into an audio-exercise class. Because remember back in the 80s when you could get a workout record? If you don't, you obviously don’t spend enough time looking through the record bins at the thrift store. I encourage you to take a look next time you’re in one and you will see what I’m talking about.
So, I’m going to start with a lesson on breathing mechanics and then walk you through some exercises. And, if you like what you hear but you want to see photos and videos of the exercises I'm describing, you can find them linked in the transcript for this podcast as well as in the original post that's on the blog at NutritiousMovement.com. Ok, here we go.
This seems like a really good time to talk about breathing and how the amount of oxygen you take in is affected by your musculoskeletal system. If you know you are driving into a storm, you check your headlights and windshield wipers to make sure they’re working as well as they can. And sometimes you don’t know you’re going to be driving into a storm (like me, EVERY TIME I visit New Mexico), which is why it's a good idea to keep up your car in general. But, either way, here is some information and some exercises to get you breathing well.
The breathing action is influenced by many things: environmental, psychological, biochemical, and biomechanical. And guess which category I’m going to write about now!
Breathing is a movement, and it is a movement affected - made possible, even - by the movements of other parts. The mechanics of breathing can become complicated quickly - because there's quiet breathing, and there's breathing while sleeping, there's breathing during different types of exercise, breathing using your nose or mouth, and it goes on and on. My point with this piece isn’t to teach all about breathing but to introduce you to some baseline mechanics and, more importantly, to help folks get their breathing parts moving better. For these reasons, I'm gonna keep my overview simple(ish) as breathing better comes faster via movement than it does just listening.
LET’S TALK ALL ABOUT BREATHING
So breathing is getting the air outside your body to enter your body through your nose (or mouth) and travel down into your lungs. In order to get this to happen, you have to lower the pressure within your thoracic cavity - and that’s the upper hunk of your body that contains your heart and lungs and that is surrounded by your ribcage - so you're decreasing the pressure here so that the air is pulled in.
Now, I have covered pressure best in Diastasis Recti, the book, but here's a quick recap: to lower the pressure in your thoracic cavity, you have to increase its volume. So the thoracic cavity is like a room in your house: your shoulders are on top as sort of a ceiling, the ribcage and the muscles between the ribs make the sidewalls and the diaphragm muscle is the floor of your thoracic cavity. So, your thoracic “room” is similar to a room in your house - only the walls are flexible. So, when your wall-parts move via the contraction of various muscles, the space inside your thoracic cavity can increase. The more it increases, the more oxygen you pull in. So, you can lower the diaphragm to make more space at the bottom, your ribs all rotate up, or open to make more space on the sides. You can lift your shoulders up to your ears to make room at the top, or you can do a combination - any combination - of all three and get a bigger room all over. So, you want the walls of your thoracic cavity to be nice and pliable, so you can maximize your thoracic-room volume to maximize each inhale. And P.S. You're just gonna reverse all of this for the exhale. You've got supple parts moving to decrease the volume of the thoracic room and that's what moves the lungs to exhale or clear out, a movement skill not only beneficial for breathing (maximizing your exhale sets the stage for maximizing the next inhale) but also for coughing. Right? Coughing is gonna require that that thoracic cavity gets smaller.
Now, the thing that’s often overlooked is that when our body parts get stiff - often because we’ve spent a lot of time not moving them - they don’t move as much when we want to take a breath or when we require their strength and endurance to clear out lungs through coughing. So, what I’m saying is, the ability to maximize our breathing lung motions is limited by how well each of our breathing parts move.
If I were to make a list of non-airway and non-lung breathing “parts,” it would include a very long list of all the bones, muscles, fascia, nerves, sensors, and chemicals involved, but I'm trying to keep this piece from being overwhelming, So, I'm gonna start by calling out some of the more basic levers and pulleys. These are your breathing parts.
the rib cage
and then each individual rib
the vertebrae that interact with each set of ribs
the muscles between each of the ribs (which are called the intercostals)
some muscles of the head and neck (so your scalene and your sternomastoid)
the diaphragm obviously
muscles of the abdomen
Each of these parts helps or hinders the movement of other parts on this list. And so when we think of opening and closing our thoracic rooms enough to move the most oxygen, these are all of the parts that have to move.
So these are just exercises help you start moving these parts better
So I'm gonna start with breathing exercises
So a simple way to move your breathing parts is to play with various breathing exercises. And this is sort of like varying your sitting positions. You’re mindfully doing something you’re already doing anyway but you're doing it in a different way to move various parts differently. So, this can be as simple as trying to take 10 deep breaths in a row or trying to breathe only through your nose, slowly. You can also find exercises online or remember any yoga breathing, choir or theatre breathing warmups. Because by paying attention to your breathing and by practicing breathing in different ways, or different shapes you're going to be moving differently. You're going to be moving your breathing parts differently.
Hi, my name is Galina Denzel and I'm one of Katy's students.
I am also a somatic experiencing practitioner. And in the next couple of minutes, we're just going to go on a little breathing journey and explore different ways to inhale and exhale and how they feel in your body.
So let's start with this difference between inhaling and exhaling through your nose with your tongue relaxed or the tongue on the roof of the mouth. So close your mouth, separate your teeth, drop your tongue to the floor of your mouth and inhale and exhale a few times. Inhaling through your nose. And exhaling through your nose.
Where do you feel an expansion in your body? How hard or easy is it to breathe? How much air is coming in through your nose?
Now place your tongue on the roof of the mouth, don't change anything else. And notice again, inhaling and exhaling through your nose how much air is coming in? Where is your body moving? Or is it moving more or is it moving less? Is it easier or harder to breathe like this?
Now, let's open your mouth and inhale through your mouth and exhale through your mouth. How much air is coming in now? Where is it going? Top or bottom of your lungs? Is there more or less of it coming into your body compared to when you inhaled and exhaled through your nose?
Now, let's close your mouth again and place your tongue on the roof of the mouth, and let's plug one nostril, just very gently with your thumb, just block one nostril. And inhale and exhale through one nostril. What do you notice now? Is there more or less air coming in? How is this changing the shape of your body? Where is it expanding more or less?
And now, let's do the other nostril. Let this one go, plug the other nostril. And then just inhaling, exhaling through that one. Easier? Harder? The same? Where is your body shape changing? Are you having to work harder when you breathe through just one nostril? Make a note of all of these different ways to choose your breathing. Through your nose, through your mouth, single nostril, with different positions of the tongue.
For more breathing practices, you can come to EatMoveLive52.com/breathingpractice. Thank you so much for joining me.
Thank you, Galina! You can find more from her at eatmovelive52.com and more breathing - she’s put together a longer audio piece for you to follow along too - at eatmovelive52.com/breathingpractice
Ok, so we just did a little sit or stand and practice varying up your breathing shapes but this approach to sort of cross-training your breathing will always be limited by the immobility of the parts distributed throughout your body. Meaning, sitting-and-breathing exercises can only take you so far.
When you hold in your stomach, the contents of your abdomen can be pressed up against the diaphragm which prevents it from lowering to its full range of motion, and thus decreases the total air that you can pull in during an inhale. So I hate to be the one to tell you, but here we go: you’re going to have to let your diaphragm down, and the only way you can do that is by letting out any belly that you’re trying to hide in your abdominal cavity. So don’t be shy. Bellies are beautiful, especially bellies that are letting you breathe!
So the level 1 of this exercise is to start seated or standing, and allow your entire belly to relax, paying special attention to the sensation of your diaphragm releasing. And you'll probably feel (and you'll probably see) that your abdomen moves outward. And once you feel like you’ve released your diaphragm, you're just gonna keep trying again. Because chances are you've got some residual tension there. So you will likely need to remind yourself to relax your diaphragm throughout the day to let your abdominals relax. And also give yourself 30 seconds to 60 seconds to make sure you've relaxed it all the way.
Now, Level 2 is to do that diaphragm or abdominal release while you are on your hands and knees. Because when you're in the quadruped position, (and you can do this if you don't get on the floor comfortably, you can just crawl on your bed and be on your hands and knees on your bed) when you are oriented this way to gravity your abdominal contents are pulled more by gravity, and you can let your diaphragm down a little farther.
So did you do it? How is it? I’m going to give you a little bit more time here to keep relaxing your abdomen. Take a couple deep breaths again as you do. And see how they compare to when you weren't relaxed in the abdomen. So you might have to, you know, maybe pull your abdomen back up to where you're used to holding it and take a couple of breaths there. If you're in front of a mirror you can see your shoulders move up and down, where is the movement happening and then when you relax your abdomen, what shapes do your breath make then?
Alright, so the first move is Floor Angels. You can find that in so many books and also in the Daily Movement Multivitamin DVD
Floor angels: they're a gentle move that gets your shoulders and chest parts moving and lengthening.
So, I'm gonna describe the exercise first. You're gonna recline on a bolster or stack of pillows so that your upper back is elevated but your rib cage can still lower down to the ground. So you're kind of propping up your head and your shoulders. Now you can do this on the floor. You can also do it on a bed - you just have to stack your pillows up a little higher. You're gonna reach your arms out to the sides, trying to get the backs of your hands to the floor, keeping your elbows slightly bent. Once your chest can handle this stretch, this kind of chest opening stretch, you're gonna rotate the arms externally. So that lifts the elbows up toward the ceiling as it points the thumbs toward the ground. Now you can turn your arms either way, internally or externally, to get your elbows and thumbs to move, so make sure you’re turning them back. You're gonna turn them so that the thumb moves up towards the ceiling and then behind you. Once you have your arms in that position you're gonna make a “snow angel” motion, about, I don't know, 10-20 times, moving your arms along the floor (or however low you can get), sweeping them up towards your head, and then you're gonna move them back down toward your hips. So if you've ever made snow angels, that's the motion that you're doing. You've just propped up your chest a little bit so your arms have to go farther back behind you which is going to stretch the chest and shoulders open a little bit more.
Now let’s say that listening to this right now, and you’re not able to get on to the floor. Just go try it standing against a wall. So, with a wall behind you, you're gonna reach your arms out to the side in a T, trying to get your thumbs to touch. And then you're gonna keep your rib cage down. The bottom of the rib cage will tend to want to pop forward. And you're gonna bring that back down towards the wall which is going to make you stretch your shoulders more. Then you're gonna move your arms overhead in that same “snow angel” motion, moving them up over your head and then back down towards your legs, trying to keep the thumbs on the wall the entire time. Now they might not go, but trying to is where you get your stretch. And again remember the rib cage down! Because the more the rib cage moves, the less you’re moving your breathing parts in the direction you want them to go.
So, if you, like me, have you had your arms down by your side most of your life this is a great way to start mixing up their movements.
So, quick! You're gonna find a wall, a counter, or the back of a chair. And you're gonna put your hands on the wall, on the counter, on the back of the chair and keep your hands in place. And then you're gonna walk backward. And as you do that, as you walk backward but you keep your hands in place, it lowers your chest toward the floor. And with your feet pelvis width - so don't have your feet too close or too far apart - and pointing forward, you're gonna keep backing your hips up. So you can only walk so far back with your feet. Then you're gonna have to travel back with your hips until they're back behind your ankles. If your hamstrings are too tight, bend your knees to take that hamstring out of the upper-body equation. Or you can always straighten your legs and then you'll be adding hamstring and calf motion. But the point is that you're getting your arms up overhead and kind of behind you, depending on how mobile your shoulders are, your upper spine, the rib cage, the abdomen, all those breathing parts. So I'm gonna do this for a minute, and let's hang out here. I have something stuck to my feet. So glamorous. This working from home. Seep down. Let your head relax. And then take a couple breaths while you're there. Anyone else get any pops when they come down there? Hmmm. All right. Go ahead and come on up. Now, I'm gonna give you one more version of that. So put your hands back in the same position. Put your left hand on top of your right hand and then walk back again. So it opens up the rib cage more on one side. And every time you get into a position, just give yourself a set of breath. You don't want to look at a time. Or just say I'm gonna breathe four times or I'm gonna breathe five times on each move. And maybe as we're working on breathing exercises timing it with breath makes the most sense. And you're not just counting your breath. You're looking at where the breath is easy and where the breath is more restrictive.
All right. You're gonna go ahead and move your left hand out and move your right hand on top of your left and sit back there again. Take three or four breaths. All right. Then go again and come up. Remember there's a great photograph of that in the show notes.
Alright if you're not back up go ahead and stand back up now.
So arms come with the anatomy to hold the weight of your body. Being able to hang from your arms is not only about fitness feats. The movements created by hanging, they affect your breathing parts too. So the first part of hanging is simply getting your arms overhead. And you’ve already worked on this movement in the Thoracic Stretch that we just did. But here's where you try it standing, so it's a little different. So you're gonna start working towards hanging and swinging with a doorway reach. And that's every time you walk through a doorway, reach your arms up until you can touch the wall above the door or the frame of the door and then drop your ribcage back to neutral while your hands are holding whatever is above the frame or the wall. And you're gonna work to keep your arms straight. And if you want to, you can step forward through the doorway to increase the stretch a bit, but you want to make sure you're still working on dropping the ribs. Because if the ribs come up you're not moving as many breathing parts. You're actually moving your breath in the opposite direction. You're moving more of your spine down low in your lower back and we want you to be opening up those breathing parts.
Also for those unable to reach the top of a doorway, whether your shoulders are tight or if you're just not tall enough, you can do a single-armed version of this exercise, one arm at a time. So just scoot yourself over so you're using the side of the doorway versus the top. You reach your arm out there and you can step through. It's a little bit of an angle, but it works quite nicely.
Once you've done that, once you're comfortable getting your arms overhead, then you can start working on hanging and swinging. It’s a bit too big for a podcast so I'm gonna refer you to the hanging protocol outlined in an article Hanging and Swinging 101, which is another post on the blog. It’s linked in the show notes, and even if you can’t hang or swing, you will still find a scalable way to move closer to being able to do so, and certainly to move more breathing parts along the way.
So if you’ve been mostly belly breathing (which is lowering your diaphragm and expanding your abdominal wall to get air) and you have a tight upper body, then the sets of muscles between each of the ribs, they really lose their ability to move. So this exercise is where you learn to strengthen those inter-rib muscles.
So the set up is: Seated or standing. You're gonna firmly tie a stretchy resistance band or a pair of tights or pantyhose (what are pantyhose?) Anyway, you're trying to find something that has some tension but also has some give. So you're gonna tie them around your torso just beneath your chest muscles or breasts (So it's the height of a bra strap or heart rate monitor). So let me show you where. If you don’t have anything right now too, you can follow around with this. You can put your hands on your waist or your hips. And then move your hands up a little bit higher until you find your waist. And then move them up a little higher until they’re around your ribcage. Hopefully, your thumbs can go around the back of your rib cage, the rest of your fingers come around the front. It's kind of - move your hand around you're gonna feel the lumps of your rib cage in there. And I want you to press your hands towards each other which is gonna almost hold the sides of the rib cage down. Now, this is what the elastic would do, but you don't have to have something elastic right now. Your hands are fine. And then try to remember for these you're gonna breathe through the nose if possible.
So on the inhale: you're gonna try to expand the circumference of the rib cage. And as you do that you'll feel the move kind of into your hands that are pushing. Right? So the hands are gonna be the elastic pushing in. And you're gonna take a deep breath. And if you don't feel your ribs move out into your hands and you're still breathing, it means that you've either elevated your shoulders or you've lowered your diaphragm but you haven't moved those really important muscles between each rib. So you're gonna keep trying it again, trying to get the rib cage to expand open wider - increase the circumference. So you'll eventually get that moving. And then on the exhale, sometimes the exhale helps. On the exhale you're gonna try to decrease the circumference of your rib cage. Meaning you're gonna pull it inward, away from where your hands are pressing. Trying to make the pressure from your hands less. So when you really exhale well, you're gonna end up having to use a lot of abdominal muscle. So it's really a great abdominal exercise. So you'll eventually feel the muscles between your ribs and throughout the abdomen work on the exhale. And you can use the elastic or this pressure around the rib cage to teach you how to find and use these muscles, but once you’ve got this movement down, you can do this exercise without the tactile assistance of the band. You learn how to move the walls, the sidewalls, of your thoracic room. And then it's like riding a bike. You just know how to fire those sets of muscles actively. And it really helps win some of your autonomic breathways are limited. The fact that you can go in and add muscular force to add more oxygen - it's very helpful for moving at altitude where your usual breath that gets you by doesn't work and you have to go in and add a little bit more work to it. This is a great skill to have.
Ok just to close out that exercise, in the show notes, you can watch a video of me demonstrating this move and breaking it down in a class - in an exercise class in our Virtual Studio. So hit the show notes if you're like, "I kinda get it but I want to see it." There's a video of that because it's an important move.
This is a good move that gets your shoulders moving but also makes the abdomen work to stabilize the entire rib cage which is good for breathing. There's a lot of core strength necessary for good breathing volumes.
So, you're gonna lie on your back with your head and shoulders bolstered on a blanket as you need to, and straighten your legs out. Just extend them along the floor. And you're gonna hold the ends of a log (or jug of water or any other weight), hold it in your hands and then squeeze your elbows toward each other (tight shoulders are gonna make them want to poke out to the right and left). So you're gonna think of pulling your elbows in towards the midline, in towards each other. Keeping the bottom of the rib cage from lifting, you're gonna lower your weight overhead. So your arms are fairly straight. Your arms are straight. You're gonna hold your weight, elbows pulled together, and then move those long arms overhead, trying to keep your elbows together or pulled in towards each other as much as you can And without letting the ribcage lift up as you drop over. And then you'll bring the log or whatever you're working with up toward the starting position. So you're gonna do this fifteen to twenty times. There is also a video clip of this exercise in the show notes, for more detail.
The way you carry your upper body as a whole is gonna impact the leverage of many of your breathing parts. So, I've put “posture” last because even though it’s hugely important, I don’t want you to wait until you've like (air quotes) "fixed your posture or got your posture right or down" before you start playing with all the other movements above. You’re going to do all the exercises regularly to start moving more parts, and then go read about aligning your rib cage to the rest of your body in an article called Are You A Rib Thruster? And I've linked to it in show notes and it describes what dropping the ribcage is. After you’ve learned that adjustment though, you're gonna adjust your ribcage “down” in all the moves above as you work on them. So we didn't mention where your rib cage was in the thoracic stretch but as you learn, as your abdomen gets stronger and can hold your rib cage in place, you're gonna move your breathing parts more by doing these exercises and holding your ribcage down. Same goes for the intercostal breathing. Rib cage position is going to demand that many of your breathing parts actually work more because it's like a chicken and an egg thing. Your ribcage really needs to be stable to fully open all of your breathing parts. but your breathing parts need to be more mobile so that you can hold your rib cage down and still breathe. So you're working on it in layers. So just give yourself lots of time, lots of little movement. Never insist on holding your rib cage in one particular place and here's why.
I mean breathing is the most important movement of all. If we’re doing it (and if you’re listening to this, you’re doing it. So, (claps) WELL DONE!) So if you're breathing you've adapted, we’ve all adapted to any resistances our body may be offering to be able to breathe well enough when we’re healthy. Like what we call breathing just fine right now is really breathing well enough. Because you don't know how well you're breathing until it's challenged. Until something causes you to maybe have to adapt your breath. And that's when you see how adaptable you are. So what we’re working on right now is the ability to find the sticky spots (so read: Move Your DNA or listen to the audiobook if you don't know what that is) we're trying to find the sticky spots in our breathing so when we are challenged, we can call on more breathing volume. Not just the small volumes that get us by most of the time. When we try to breathe in new ways, we are asking new (and stiff) parts in our body to change shape, which in the moment can actually make breathing harder. So in the same way that running, you start to run, meaning that you're starting a running program, you're gonna feel the resistance of you not being able to pull in enough breath to facilitate a different movement because you're not used to doing that movement. You're not used to parts moving in that particular way. So it's challenging because your body doesn't have the shape yet. That's why they say "you're out of shape." You don't have the shape yet to facilitate that particular move. So you just keep doing it that little bit and a little bit more and eventually you get the shape. But breathing is challenged. And even doing some of these stretches, some of these small motions, you'll hit that same breathing wall because you're feeling the decrease in breath due to the stiffness of those parts.
So step one of any exercise is to keep breathing. That's like the ultimate alignment point. So if you notice you’re having trouble breathing with, you know, say your diaphragm released or when you’re trying to move your ribs in intercostal breathing. Or sometimes keeping your ribs down in a move, that's going to make it difficult for you to get a breath. So when you come to that, if you come to that place during exercise, you need to go back to the position where breathing was last comfortable and then, try a smaller range of an exercise. So maybe don’t drop your rib cage all of the way, just partway. Or maybe do the diaphragm release only part way for now and work on all the other moves for a while, then circle back to try them all again with say your diaphragm a little more released. Because you're just unpracticed in moving your breath in any way besides the way that you use it most of the time. Which is gonna be related to how much you move overall, what types of movements you do, and then which of these breathing parts move and which don't.
So now what? You’ve learned a little about breathing and some exercises you can do to improve the ability for your thoracic cavity to expand in a multitude of ways. So for this piece I've used a simpler model, but know that "breathing" gets more complex when you start adding activity, and then the movements or body shapes that create that activity. And I’m gonna be covering that in the next podcast episode, show 122: Breathing Shapes. That's coming up.
And just thank you for listening and breathing along with me. I really appreciate everyone out there and hope you're doing well. You can go find all of the exercises again photographed, some with videos. And we've made a print out of these exercises that you can download and hang up for easier practice. You can find that at NutritiousMovement.com. Click on blog on the menu on the top right and look for the article How To Move Your Breathing Parts Better. At the bottom, you'll find a PDF.
And speaking of moving better, especially if you are in place right now, I put up a free video class with me that’s perfect for doing in your own home with no special equipment. You can also find that at nutritiousmovement.com/in-place-wall-space-class/ with a hyphen in between each work. So nutritiousmovement.com/in-place-wall-space-class or just, you know, it's linked in the show notes.
And if you are wanting to move even more parts and take even more classes with me during these historical times, we’ve dropped the price of our Virtual Studio Membership to only 9 bucks per month for the next three months to help keep everyone moving while they are staying close to home. So just sign up using the code BE-WELL2020. B E hyphen W E L L and the numbers two zero two zero, for the first three months at nine dollars each. You can also find that code and the link to subscribe to our Virtual Studio - you guessed it - in the show notes.
Alrighty, friends. Breathe well and be well, humans! Hang in there, peeps! You’re doing great.
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.