In the below post by my friend and colleague Tim Altman, outlines the systemic health benefits in being trained in Breathing Efficiency. Tim and I ran Breathing courses together in 2010/11 and we discovered some amazing clinical findings of what is important in breathing well.
Due to my training in Dynamic Neuromuscular Stability (DNS) through the Prague School Courses, I was aware that the Diaphragm has the dual functions of Respiration and Stability. While everyone is aware of the Respiratory function, it seems that knowledge of the Diaphragm’s role in Stability is rare.
When Tim and I had clients breathing on the capno trainers, we would emphasise 2 points;
1. Slow down the exhalation to the limit of your breath control.
2. Notice where you are controlling the breath from.
We wanted clients to be able shift the control of the breath from the throat (vocal diaphragm) to the chest (thoracic diaphragm). This was not a simple task because it is neurologically demanding to change a habit of a lifetime! This change has tremendous functional health benefits.
When the exhalation phase of breathing is slow and controlled, the Diaphragm is working eccentrically. This means that the deepest and arguably the most important muscular structure of the body is lengthening under tension to slowly return the lungs in preparation for the next inhalation. This is equivalent to taking the Diaphragm into the Gym on each exhalation. This practice also has tremendous benefits to the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), in that the client is established in parasympathetic dominance. This open restful alpha state is the opposite branch of the ANS, to living in low level emergency beta state (fight/flight state of the Sympathetic branch).
The other major health benefit to understanding the role of the Diaphragm is its role in Stability. From a postural perspective, if the Diaphragm sits horizontally in relation to the vertical of gravity, one has optimal spinal posture. In other words, if the Diaphragm is horizontal, the spine will be optimally long (axially extended). From this horizontal position the push of the Diaphragm is even to pelvic floor, and we have the ideal context for stabilising the low back via intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). This is the invisible genius of our upright posture!
The peak of the Diaphragmatic dome at Thoracic vertebrae 4 (T4) is where cervical extension begins, and this understanding is key for ideal head/neck/shoulder stabilisation.
In summary, T4 above head/neck/upper thoracic. T4 below, lower thoracic/lumbar/pelvic floor and hip stability.
This basic anatomical framework highlights the intelligence of Deep System Stability (DSS) and is the beginning of understanding unlimited degrees of freedom in moving.
Now, please read below for some of the metabolic health benefits of breathing efficiently.
CO2 and Breathing Assist in Recovery Post Cardiac Arrest.
A recent world first study which reviewed 16,000 patients across a decade found that higher than normal levels of CO2 in the early post resuscitation period following a heart attack could boost survival rates. And reduce brain damage.
This study was motivation enough for the Austin Hospital in Melbourne to give patients recovering from cardiac arrest more CO2 to boost long-term recovery.
It has always been understood that CO2 plays a vital role in breathing – being the limiting factor that influences oxygen delivery to the cells via haemoglobin in the blood stream (see notes on “The Bohr Effect” in www.timaltman.com.au).
Dr Glenn Eastwood from the Austin Hospital’s ICU research department said that slightly higher levels of CO2 have an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-convulsive properties and these are important for protecting the brain after a heart attack. And slightly higher levels of CO2 could increase blood flow to the brain, which may help it get enough oxygen to maintain its own metabolism, preserving its function.
What no one has said is that CO2 in human blood should normally be at higher levels than they are in most people. Research has found that the average person breathes twice as often as medical diagnostic norms suggest we should – that is, we breathe 25,000-30,000 times per day as opposed to the 12,000-14,000 times per day according to these diagnostic norms.
And many people also breathe far more volume of air in and out than is necessary – particularly when breathing using the mouth.
An increase in breathing rate and volume contribute to ‘over-breathing’. Over breathing results in lower levels of arterial CO2 as the body exhales excessive amounts.
Therefore if the average person over breathes, and over breathing reduces CO2 levels in the system, it follows that the average person is exposing their system to lower levels of CO2 than they should according to diagnostic norms (according to the Bohr Effect, arterial CO2 levels should ideally be 40mmHg or above – a level I have found clinically via use of capnometry to measure CO2 levels to rarely ever be the case). In other words, the average person does not allow their breathing to adequately play it’s role in the body of energy production and maintenance of homeostasis and health. In essence, the average person underperforms in terms of breathing by up to 50%. And, except for our heart beating, breathing is the one bodily function that we perform more than any other.
Perhaps it also follows that higher levels of CO2 in general could help prevent cardiac arrests as much as they assist in recovery post a cardiac arrest. After all, as stated by Dr Eastwood, high CO2 levels have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-convulsive properties. Plus CO2 in the blood stream is a natural vasodilator, thus helping it increase blood flow to the brain (and all other parts of the body) and helps relieve pressure on constricted blood vessels.
Therefore training a person to breathe as they should according to diagnostic norms; i.e. having higher levels of CO2, or reversing their over breathing, would act as a wonderful preventative to heart disease and many other inflammatory ailments. And would be fantastic for exploring higher or optimal levels of health and performance.
I have found clinically, this can be achieved via 4-5 one hour bio-feedback driven sessions of breathing retraining and regular practice of 10-20 minutes daily from the person themselves. Once learned, they have obtained a life or ‘living’ skill that is free. And prevention has always been the best first aid.
Given considerable amounts are invested into research of how to treat or improve recovery post chronic ailments such as heart disease ($183,000 to Dr Eastwood and the Austin hospital in this case – which is great), it would also be great if some attention (even money) was paid to optimising living skills such as breathing (or nutrition, stabilization etc.).