Feb. 12, 2013

Role Of The Breath In Muscle Tension & Release

Faulty breathing habits stem from muscle tension which interferes with the diaphragm and hinders breathing.   The feeling of tightness in the chest caused by muscle tension and shallow breathing will ultimately lead to a burst of breathing in order to compensate for not having enough oxygen in the body.  This pattern is then reinforced by a temporary feeling of relief thereby creating a vicious cycle.


I can recall for years the hunching of my shoulders when I felt uncomfortable or stiff in social or sticky situations unaware of the shift in my breathing patterns and how this was affecting my health and spirit for that matter.  As a middle child growing up I always felt isolated and unnoticed as relatives and family friends would always ask “Are you the oldest or the youngest?"   As a result, I learned to deal with the stress of being alone by entertaining myself by honing a multitude of skills and talents such as professional dance lessons in modern dance, tap, jazz, ballet, and in later adulthood hip-hop, stepping, Caribbean, Latin, and my all-time favorite, Egyptian dancing.  Later I became a poet.  business owner, and fiction writer – all of which eventually culminated into an obsessive-compulsive disorder with personality disorders as a result of overcompensating due to an inability to deal with stressful situations and the feeling of being “invisible”.  I also suffered from respiratory disorders in early childhood and had to have my tonsils removed.  My breathing was labored and loud.  During my teen years, I joined the swim team but could not keep up with the lap swimming.   However being an expert swimmer and diver,  I was able to pursue synchronized swimming which was a slower-paced more intricate method I could handle with the graceful back dolphins and other swimming techniques.  Hence breathing was something I was afraid of and more than likely, I was and have been a breath-holder as a result.


Beginning in 2009 I also noticed when I consumed large meals in a hurry that this would later cause lightheadedness and dizziness to the point of vomiting, nausea, or feeling like I was going to pass out.  The last time it happened on a 9-hour bus ride I thought I had to have the bus driver call the ambulance.  I believe the only thing that aided my recovery was a sudden bout of deep breathing that seemed to be a spontaneous reaction to my fearful feelings and discomfort.   In retrospect, I can attribute such events to faulty breathing and the beginning of hypertension.   When I ate in a hurry, especially large meals such as buffets, I judge I was not taking the time to breathe properly in between bites plus my own self-pressure to finish in a hurry and consume large amounts of food at once seemed to contribute to my symptoms of stress. 


It is possible to test your own breathing pattern by charting your breathing cycle.  It begins with breathing in and ends with breathing out.  Healthy persons breathe on average about 6-10 times per minute.   Stressed people breathe at a faster rate than this. 


Though muscle tension can be released in other ways, the best place to start is with an appropriate breathing pattern.  If you count your breathing cycles for 30 seconds and multiply by two, you can measure your breathing cycles per minute.   To begin:   Set your watch, timer, or clock.  Begin counting NOW. (TIME SHOULD BE 30 SECONDS EXACTLY).  NOW stop counting. How high is your level of stress according to your breathing pattern?


Learning breath control and deep-breathing techniques can minimize stress and will also directly attack the “fear of fear” that many stressed individuals suffer from.    Being mindful of your breathing, you can also practice some simple muscle relaxation techniques that I will demonstrate briefly in the video.  As stated before, the demonstrations in the videos are brief, to be done in a pinch, and thus NOT all-inclusive.  


Stress management of muscle tension release toward relaxation requires additional training and warrants considerably more time and detailed attention on a one-on-one or group basis.  The videos following the next segment are designed to peak your interest and ultimately steer you toward considering pursuing stress management training for the sake of your health and spiritual well-being.


See Stress & Wellbeing