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Finding The Right Balance In Your Breathing

by Cyndi Otfinowski, Physiotherapist


Our culture celebrates a tight abdomen and encourages people to ‘suck in your gut’. How does that affect your breathing?


Your diaphragm muscle does 80-90% of the work of breathing at rest. It is located below your ribcage in the front and attaches to you low back. It has 2 dome shaped muscles that push down on your abdomen when you breathe in. As your lungs fill with air, they occupy more space from your abdomen and your belly pushes out. If you hold your gut in, then your lungs don’t have as much room to expand. Also, if you have extra tension from holding your gut in, then it is harder to expand your rib cage when you breathe in.


Thus you may feel that it is hard to get a deep breathe, that you feel you are breathing shallow and fast, and you may even yawn a lot.


Does that mean you should just let your belly hang out?

There is a happy medium where you have abdominal tone that supports the gut, but doesn’t restrict your breathing. if you have low tone in your abdomen then you may have back pain.


Dysfunctional breathing can occur when your breathing rate and volume are more than what is needed for the activity you are doing. You can have symptoms while all diagnostic tests are normal. The good news is that you can learn a new breathing pattern that supports you in any activity that you are doing.


If you are breathing with upper chest muscles at rest, feel tension in neck and shoulders, feel that you get short of breath or tired immediately with exercise; this may indicate that you have a dysfunctional breathing pattern.


Contact a physiotherapist for help to retrain your breathing pattern or for exercises to tone your abdomen without restricting your breathing.


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