Baby steps to better breathing
Here is a link to a recent NPR story on breathwork and Alexander technique:
A few quibbles:
1) The segment states that we gasp (inhale quickly) when startled to increase oxygen supply.
"The quick inhale brings more oxygen in and sets off a flood of hormones that heighten our senses and help us respond quickly. "
Since most people are carrying 100% of the oxygen that their blood could carry, it seems more likely that we evolved this gasp response to put the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles in a longer & stronger position. Any martial artist would rather strike or be hit on an exhale because (among other reasons) the spine can be stabilized more effectively on an exhale than on an inhale.
2) Even with upper chest breathing, the diaphragm is involved in every breath (assuming the breather is neurologically intact).
"When the belly moves up and down during relaxed breathing it's a sign that the diaphragm is fully contracting and expanding."
The diaphragm can be fully contracting and expending with mimimal belly movement. Conversely, the belly can move in a way that works agains diaphragmatic movemnent. This reverse breathing pattern where the abdomen is pulled in during inhalation and pushed out during exhalation is common and inefficient.
3) For people without severe lung disease, improving breathing patterns has more of an impact on carbon dioxide levels (they go up) in the blood than oxygen levels, since oxygen saturation is pretty good for the typical person even if they have a breathing pattern disorder.
"If you're uptight and you're not taking a deep breath, you're not getting efficient oxygen exchange," says Alice Domar, a therapist and researcher on stress and women's health issues."
Breathing bigger and faster breaths tends to increase anxiety and muscle tension.
4) Here is a commonly stated rationale for "diaphragmatic breathing":
"The lowest third of our lungs have the most efficient oxygen exchange," says Domar. "So when you take a diaphragmatic breath your heart doesn't have to work so hard."
I see no reason to think that breathing with more movement low in the body increases aeration of the lower lobes of the lungs. Lots of good reasons to breathe "low and slow" but this is not one of them.....
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