We breath a lot.

Thousands of times a day, with estimates ranging from  17,000- 30,000 breaths per day.

That’s a lot of breathing! Our breathing patterns are well entrenched and automatic. Imagine doing anything else 20,000 times a day and think of what habits you would have developed.

Let’s play around with those habits.

Take a breath. Take a big, deep breath.

How does it feel? Does it travel up around your neck and shoulders? Cause a big lift of your chest? A pull into your back? Sometimes when we’re stressed we take quick, shallow breaths. Tension in the shoulders, torso and neck can lead to a breathing pattern that puts extra strain on those areas.

Does your belly expand when you breathe?

Belly breathing is popular and is frequently taught as a relaxation breath. When you are lying down, and aiming for a release of tension and stress, belly breathing is an important and wonderful approach. When you are upright, though, that expansion of your belly means that there’s pressure pushing down on your viscera and your pelvic floor, that your core muscles don’t have the opportunity to help support you.

There is another way to breathe.
It is called torsional rib breathing in which each individual rib spins up and away from the one below it, then settles back down on the outbreath. It uses all the respiratory muscles of your torso, creates much needed motion in  your ribs and allows your neck and shoulders to take a break.

If you don’t normally think of expanding your rib cage as part of your breath cycle, giving yourself an image to think about as you breathe may make it easier.

 

Imagine a jellyfish.
From Ernst Haeckel’s ‘Kunstformen der Natur’

Make that jellyfish your favourite colour. Give it a home in the bottom of your rib cage. Place your hands around the sides of your ribs so you can feel them move.

 

Forgive the awesome art skills!
Breathe in through your nose
Imagine the jellyfish
pulling down and wide
flattening out
making the circle
at the bottom of your ribs
bigger.

 

 

Let your breath flow and
follow the action of the jellyfish
Now exhale through your mouth
Imagine the jellyfish
rounding up again
helping press the air
up and out
of your body.

 

 

How do you feel when you breath from your jellyfish? Really, stop and do it right now. I’ll wait. Pretty good, right?

This is the action of your diaphragm!

Most people who don’t know much about the diaphragm assume that it lifts as we inhale and drops as we exhale. That’s the shape your body takes if you tend to be a top-of-torso breather, and it seems intuitively sensible that the diaphragm follows the same route.

What actually happens is that the diaphragm drops down and creates more space, which allows for the inhale. Then it pulls back up, decreasing the space in the thoracic cavity and helping drive the exhale. There are many muscles involved in the process, but for the purposes of this exercise, let’s just focus on the jellyfish. (I mean diaphragm)

If you are pregnant, this is an excellent skill to learn. As your pregnancy progresses, and you have less and less space in your abdominal cavity it can get hard to take a deep breath. Using the posterolateral (back and sides) space available to your rib cage can make all the difference in avoiding that short-of-breath sensation. In addition, there is often a tendency to shorten and tighten the back muscle (in an admirable effort to not fall over) as your belly gets bigger and bigger. That arched position makes the upper thoracic breath the natural go to, and they play off each other and exacerbate the situation. Practicing jellyfish breathing not only adds more oxygen to your system without tensing your neck and shoulders, it helps to open and release your back and take strain off your psoas.

There are many different ways to breathe, and there are many different circumstances in your life that require each of those variations. Singing is different from yoga is different from running is different from hanging out relaxing. Give yourself permission to play around with breathing as an activity that has different effects depending on how you do it. The jellyfish breath is one way to engage your deep core and respiratory muscles and mobilize the bony structure that is your rib cage along with all the amazing muscles that surround it.

Go for it. Breathe.
xo
Alison

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