There are many things our bodies do automatically or involuntarily. For example, our heart beats on its own. We don’t control our heartbeat, it just beats. Likewise, breathing is something that our body mostly does on its own.
However, unlike our heartbeat, we can voluntarily influence our breathing patterns whenever we want to. On the surface, this may not seem that important or groundbreaking, but breathing is actually the foundation of everything we do.
Several types of breathing
- Chest breathing, also known as thoracic breathing or shallow breathing.
- Diaphragmatic breathing also referred to as belly breathing.
- Cylindrical breathing, this manner of breathing involves filling up the entire trunk in all directions.
These concepts confuse a lot of people so don’t worry if this doesn’t make sense yet. It will become more clear with practice and as you read further.
Now I am about to break your brain momentarily. I just made it a point that there are three types of breathing; chest breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and cylindrical breathing. However, that is really not true as all breathing involves the diaphragm. Say what? (1)
Now before you throw the penalty flag on me, let me further explain. The differentiation between these breathing patterns is due to stabilization and movement of the diaphragm and ribs.
For visualization purposes, let’s think of the diaphragm as a parachute between two trees, the trees being your ribs. Now let’s imagine breathing as a gust of wind. Chest breathing then would be when a gust of wind comes, the parachute doesn’t move but the trees(ribs) sway to the side, away from the parachute(diaphragm). So in other words, the diaphragm remains stable and the ribs move outwards. This elongates the diaphragm which decreases its capacity to “pull air in”.
Now with that same thought process let us visualize belly breathing. That same gust of wind comes but this time the parachute is stretched downwards and the trees remain stable. So the ribs don’t move but the diaphragm is lowered. This leads to an increase in breathing capacity as the lungs will then have more room to expand.
This is because the surface area is maximized in all directions. When the ribs move rather than the diaphragm you will flatten your torso and leave lung capacity on the table.
Cylindrical Breathing and Intra Abdominal Pressure (IAP)
According to Professor Pavel Kolar (PT, Ph.D.), the developer of Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization(DNS), no human movement or thinking pattern can be performed optimally without ideal breathing. (2)
I have attended several DNS courses and the curriculum is always overwhelming. This is because of the detail that goes into addressing mechanics and movement. With DNS, all assessments and corrective exercises all root back to the concept of ideal cylindrical breathing. They use the phrase “liquid ball phenomenon” as an analogy to get the concept across. Simply put cylindrical breathing, in a nutshell, it is like a single raindrop falling into a lake. If you followed the last sentence visually you envisioned the drop hitting the water and creating a ripple effect. The waves move away from the point of impact in perfect circles, distributing the impact evenly in all directions. This is cylindrical breathing.
Let’s now dive a bit deeper and apply the concept of intra abdominal pressure. If you have ever used a weight lifting belt, you have practical experience with IAP. A weight belt is used to create tension and stabilize throughout a movement. The belly is filled with air and we press the tension into the belt and with Newton’s Third Law the belt presses back into our torso, creating tension.
Weight belts certainly are useful and have their place, however, the tension just described can be created internally using ideal cylindrical breathing and intra-abdominal pressure. If you are doing a good job of cylindrical breathing you will unknowingly improve your IAP. The tricks to this are that it is difficult to learn at first and once learned it is sometimes difficult to maintain during higher intensities and when fatigue sets in. The diagram below should offer some visual feedback on the previous paragraph.
Why is this important?
Unfortunately, many people have developed poor breathing habits due to a wide range of reasons. Many people, especially those with poor posture and poor mechanics, have fallen victim to the habit of chest breathing.
Chest breathing minimizes oxygen intake during inhalation and decreases the amount of carbon dioxide that is released during exhalation. This minimizes oxygen to the bloodstream, which leads to quicker feelings of fatigue due to less ATP, the energy molecule created in the mitochondria of the cell.
Chest breathing causes tension and stress in the upper body
Belly breathing also minimizes the exchange of gases as well as decreased stability. Belly breathing can also create compressive forces in the posterior. This can cause back pain, tightness, and decrease mobility. The diagram below does a create job of portraying belly breathing with a lack of posterior pressure created. This creates a “scissors” effect which is the compressive force I just mentioned.
Cylindrical breathing is the ideal way to breathe as it increases the surface area of the lungs which in turn increases the exchange of gases. In other words, oxygen intake and carbon dioxide outtake are maximized. This increase in oxygen will lead to an increase in ATP. This increase in ATP leads to greater endurance and ability to withstand stress. Additionally greater and more efficient IAP is produced with cylindrical breathing.
Furthermore, studies on Wim “The Iceman” Hof, have shown that the Wim Hof Method (a specific pattern of ideal breathing paired with mental focus and cold immersion) can give a person the ability to influence their autonomic nervous system and immune system. Say what?
If you haven’t heard of Wim Hof here is a little background information. He holds over twenty Guinness World Records, he climbed Mt. Everest 23,000 ft barefoot and in shorts, and professional athletes around the globe have taken notice and started training with him. Renowned mobility expert Dr. Kelly Starrett stated the Wim Hof Method is “more important than all of the Apollo missions combined.” (3)
Wim Hof sitting in direct contact with ice. Using his method he was able to sit for almost two hours without his core temperature changes.
A Guinness world record
The studies on Wim Hof and those he trained in a controlled study have shown that those with poor breathing patterns have a blood PH that is too acidic( ~7.4). This causes the body to lose the ability to assimilate vitamins and minerals as well as heal itself. However, with the Wim Hof Method, we are able to increase the PH of our blood to levels that are more alkaline(~7.75). This, in turn, allows cells to assimilate vitamins and minerals. (3)
Studies also show the Wim Hof Method can give one the ability to release epinephrine at will. Epinephrine, better known as Adrenaline, is a stress hormone that is released during an increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system and it suppresses the immune response. This means that the body may then be able to heal itself from inflammation. Talk about mind over matter! (4)
So before you go and hit those squats, sprints, swimming laps, or shooting drills, try a few minutes of focused ideal breathing. Put a book on your stomach and without breathing push your stomach in and out. Make sure your back stays flat to the ground! From here try doing several one minute rounds of focused cylindrical breathing and let me know your thoughts!
If done properly, this will help with stability, power, Vo2 Max, cognition, performance, and overall well being.
To sum it all up
- Proper breathing is essential for optimized physical and mental activity
- Breathing, like anything, must be trained properly
- All breathing is diaphragmatic, however proper breathing involves the movement of the diaphragm and stabilization of the ribs while optimizing intra-abdominal pressure.
The Wim Hof Method may allow the body to heal itself by influencing the autonomic nervous system and immune system.
Practice ideal breathing right now! 3 Rounds of 1 minute!