Infinity Spine Center Blog

How to Change your Breathing and your Life

Breathing is the only bodily function that we can perform with either our subconscious or conscious mind. Because of this, breathing is one of the most powerful tools that you can use to improve your health and performance no matter your level of health and fitness. If you do breathing exercises, this is likely not news to you. If you’ve never used diaphragmatic breath work, you’ll be thankful for the benefits of incorporating it into your daily life. If you have a chronic disease diagnosis or want to improve the quality of your life, such as recovery from your workouts or metabolism, you’ll want to implement breath work regularly.

I first learned about breath work at Dr. Shannan’s, my chiropractor in Ohio, office 12 years ago when he had a yoga teacher come to his office and do a workshop. I wasn’t religious about doing any breath work after the workshop because I was skeptical of its effects. The thousands of years of breath work by yoga and breath work practitioners wasn’t enough for me.

Fast forward to 2013 when I was fortunate enough to team up with Omegawave (https://www.omegawave.com/) to research technology to determine athlete training readiness. Omegawave developed technology to measure things like heart rate variability (HRV) and central nervous system readiness. HRV is the measure of change in heart rate over time. A high HRV indicates a greater parasympathetic tone, which is the “calming” part of the nervous system. Central nervous system readiness is a measurement of the voltage difference between the brain and the body. It’s believed that a higher voltage, to a certain extent, in the brain is optimal.

Controlled diaphragmatic breathing had some of the most profound effects on HRV and central nervous system readiness. One breathing strategy that I used to improve HRV and brain/body voltage was 3 seconds of inhalation and 9 seconds of exhalation (3/9). Almost every time I did the 3/9 diaphragmatic breathing my recovery scores changed dramatically. Check out the results of 5 minutes of 3/9 breathing did to my brain: (https://www.instagram.com/p/ioqFF6KZV4/?hl=en&taken-by=infinityspine)

Another piece of technology that I’ve used to confirm the positive physiological changes from doing diaphragmatic breathing is a pulse oximeter. A pulse oximeter measures pulse as well as oxygen saturation with almost instant feedback. The oxygen saturation data that you get from the pulse oximeter will give you more evidence of the power of your breath. During a typical diaphragmatic breathing session using the 3/9 method, my oxygen saturation ranges from 89-99%. The fluctuations in oxygen saturation are the physiological magic. The variance is skill dependent so it may take some time especially if you’ve been using your chest and neck muscles to breathe.

There’s a good chance you think greater oxygen saturation is better. When oxygen saturation is lower, such as 89-94%, there’s a relative increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood. When there’s higher levels of CO2 in the blood and lower levels of oxygen, hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in the blood, dumps oxygen into our cells. When oxygen is in our blood, it doesn’t do our cells much good. We need oxygen in the cell; specifically, the part of the cell called the mitochondria. The mitochondria are parts of our cells that turn food energy into usable cellular energy. Without oxygen, our mitochondria fail to create energy. In the short term, low levels of oxygen in the mitochondria will cause fatigue. If low oxygen levels persist, autoimmune diseases can rear their ugly head. If low cellular oxygen levels go on long enough, metabolism fails and conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia may result.

The magic is in the cycles of higher (95-99%) and lower (89-94%) oxygen saturation in the blood. If we constantly have high oxygen saturation in the blood, hemoglobin and oxygen affinity increases leading to decreased oxygen delivery to our cells. Slow and controlled exhalation breath work like the 3/9 is one method to get changes in oxygen saturation that leads to better oxygen delivery to our cells.

How to do the 3/9 seconds diaphragmatic method:
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent comfortably with your feet flat on the floor.
2. Close your mouth, gently push your tongue to the roof of your mouth, and breathe through your nose. Continue to breathe through your nose throughout this exercise and the rest of your life!
3. Place one hand just above your bellybutton and your other hand on in the center of your chest.
4. Begin by exhaling until you feel a moderate to strong contraction in your lower ab muscles near your pelvic bones. Exhaling should be comfortable but forced, and your hand on your belly should move inward, closer to your spine.
5. Next, inhale for 3 seconds. The hand on your stomach should rise, moving away from your spine. Be sure that your hand on your chest has minimal to no movement.
6. After inhalation, exhale again, but this time be sure to exhale for 9 seconds in a slow controlled fashion (try to increase exhalation time which increases parasympathetic activity as well as oxygen delivery to cells).
7. Continue the 3/9 seconds cycle of inhalation/exhalation for as long as you want some mediation amazingness!

Actionable steps:
1. If you are a mouth breather, do the best that you can to breathe through your nose and keep your mouth closed unless you are taking a bite of food or talking.
2. Start by incorporating the 3/9 diaphragmatic exercise when you wake up in the morning for 5 minutes or 25 breaths. Time management tip: do it as you watch sunrise, and your scollops broil in the oven. I do it also during my 4 minutes of red and near-infrared (RNIr) therapy. Talk about boosting metabolism! RNIr and oxygen!
3. Get the most bang for your buck by doing controlled diaphragmatic breath work like the 3/9 method after someone gives you the finger in a traffic jam on the 101. Or try it when you are working your most challenging positions of stretching. Learn to do it when the shit hits the fan. If you learn to control your breathing during stressful times, you’ll reap the physiological benefits of keeping stress in check, and stress won’t beat you down.
4. I hate doing dishes. So when I do dishes, I do diaphragmatic breath work. Turn chores into therapeutic healing sessions. Try it! Let me know your thoughts after you do it for two weeks. Feel free to share at https://www.facebook.com/InfinitySpine/
5. Learn to breathe when you’re under physical stress such as at the gym working out or rolling in jiu-jitsu. Diaphragmatic breathing is powerful as a part of dual tasking. The next time you are hiking Gateway Trailhead, and you’re sucking wind, try to breathe in and out through your nose only and control your breathing by slowly exhaling.

 


Gravel and Pain in your Knee: Chrondromalacia

Does it sound like you have gravel in your knee? How about pain and tenderness around your kneecap? There’s a good chance there’s a tracking issue in your knee that you’ll want to address. Until then, try out this stretch for near-immediate pain relief. (please know that we do not recommend doing this stretch if you have patellar tendinopathy)

Bad news: this is likely not the long-term fix to your pain. The long-term fix usually involves assessing your feet, ankles, hips, and other body parts to see where your brain has control challenges. One example of how a part of your body can affect another is your foot’s effect on the knee. If you over-pronate your foot due to lack of control of your arch, this can lead to knee pain. Or during your squat, you try to keep your toes straight ahead by over-engaging lower leg and foot muscles–this will blow up your knee over time leading to swelling and degeneration.

You are a complex biological system of many working parts. If you have pain or control issues in one region, there’s a HUGE chance your brain has lost control in other joints as a way to compensate.


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