Maybe it’s just us, but our breath is really fascinating. It’s the only movement that we can do voluntarily and involuntarily. Think about it, while breathing happens automatically, we also have the ability to control the rate, depth and frequency of our breath. It's also the only way we can influence our involuntary (autonomic) nervous system. Slowing down or speeding up these involuntary processes. It's close relation to the diaphragm make it important in protecting our low back an improving athletic performance.
Because it’s a movement that happens upwards of 20,000 times and day, it's important we look at just a few of the reasons 'Why Our Breath Matters.'
1. Relation to Diaphragm
The diaphragm is arguably the most neglected muscle of the body. Which is crazy because of all the important structures that pass through including the aorta, vena cava, esophagus , the psoas muscle etc. The diaphragm muscle is the primary muscle responsible for controlling breathing and breathing mechanics.
By training our breathing mechanics we improve diaphragmatic function which has positivily impacts our digestive, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal systems.
2. Relation to Low Back Stability
Low back stability is all about shifting loads off of our passive strictures (discs, joints, ligaments, tendons, etc). With regards to our low back, this can be easily accomplished by creating ‘intra-abdominal pressure’ (IAP). This is pressure created inside the abdominal cavity through the contraction of surrounding musculature. In simplistic terms, IAP is low when muscles are relaxed and little air is in the abdominal cavity. When the abdominal cavity filled with air creates what low back specialist Dr. Stuart McGill calls ‘360 degree low back stiffness.’ This stiffness takes the compressive loads off of our spine and intervertebral discs and onto the surrounding musculature.
Our ability to consciously train breathing mechanics through ‘Diaphragmatic Breathing’ is vital in creating low back stability.
3. Effect on Nervous System
Breathing is also the only way we can to affect the involuntary (autonomic) nervous system. We can use breathing to either heighten or depress our autonomic nervous system. By altering breathing patterns we have the ability to shift us more towards parasymphatic (relaxed) state or or a more heightened (sympathetic) state.
This ability to affect our autonomic nervous system affects all aspects of our physiology (including cardiovascular and digestive).
The importance of breathing is nothing new in other cultures, being used in yoga for hundreds of years. Even in the western world, we teach breathing alterations in child birth and for better focus (Karate Kid anyone?) But we’re now starting to see the importance of breathing in how we manage pain as well as performance in athletics.