One healing practice that deserves to be brought onboard any chiropractic practice is deep abdominal breathing (AB).
People everywhere take the respiratory system for granted and indulge in shallow and even paradoxical breathing (PB), where the diaphragm moves opposite to the normal direction. But faulty and abnormal breathing are likely to hamper health and detract from therapeutic gains.
Clinical evidence abounds regarding the benefits of good breathing in wellness modalities such as Ayurvedic and Siddha medicine, yoga, and tai chi. And notably, some of these healthcare practices have subsisted for millennia. So what should you know about healthy breathing techniques and integrating them into your own practice?
Groupthink about breathing
Converts to alternative treatment techniques, including chiropractic, find it disheartening that there is so much groupthink in modern healthcare, even with regard to something as fundamental as AB. A narrow focus on one’s own field that overlooks the benefits of complementary practices could impede the adoption of valid healing practices that deliver quicker results.
Unquestionably, there is considerable clinical evidence of the healing power of breath to keep the body firing on all cylinders.1
This evidence also points to other effective remedies to be found in alternative healthcare practices for various mental and physical illnesses.2.3
It is also note- worthy that integrating some of these practices into chiropractic could realize sizeable savings in the cost of healthcare.
For the most part, the various healthcare practices do not converse with one another as much as they should in the broader interest of patient wellness. This happens even when they are not in direct competition. It is even rarer for a given modality to acquire techniques from alternative practices.
Narrow, silo-thinking undeniably obstructs the interchange of ideas and innovation. This represents a considerable loss to the profession, especially where there may be more than one way—and even a better way—to skin a cat. Had the Palmers been aware of it, they would likely not have let a technique such as AB go to waste.
Shallow breathing, wide effects
Normally, in most health assessment intakes, there are questions about diet, drinking, smoking, lifestyle, and so forth, but seldom any questions
about breathing practices. But shallow breath or PB can indicate how close to ill-health, or how deeply entangled in health-related distress a patient is. Poor breathing is rarely associated with robust health and wellness.
More often than not, most patients’ breathing is likely to be merely thoracic or, worse, clavicular. These two habits result in shallow breathing, which short shifts the critical functions of oxygen delivery to cells and the flushing out of carbon dioxide.
Such a finding would call for damage control through AB.
On top of any chiropractor’s diagnostic checklist, it would be helpful to have AB as one of the assessment tests. David Coulter, PhD, calls it abdominodiaphragmatic breathing. He says that “thoraco-diaphragmatic breathing is the perfect compromise” when deep AB cannot be started right away for compelling reasons.4
The only rational respiratory mode
AB is the only sound pattern of breathing. This is because oxygen is the life-force that sustains wellbeing. Trillions of cells in the human body, particularly the neurons in the brain, tend to languish for more oxygen that could lower their rate of atrophy. For the agitated or stressed mind, it is perhaps the best pacifier.
Also, carbon dioxide is released even as oxygen is absorbed through the phenomenon of gas exchange occurring in the alveoli cells in lungs. Functionally speaking, deep AB efficiently sustains the respiratory system. It is the raison d’être of fitness and wellbeing.
Perhaps what is worse than shallow clavicular and thoracic breathing is PB observed in a majority of people. In PB, the upturned diaphragm below the ribcage moves in the reverse direction compared to someone breathing normally. During inha- lation, the diaphragm is pulled up rather than pushed down, making the abdominal wall go in instead of out. During exhalation the ribcage seems to shift abnormally, pushing the diaphragm down and in turn shoving the abdominal walls out making it appear to expand even if slightly.
This type of flawed breathing pattern, if sustained over enough time, shrinks lung capacity and volume, reducing its functionality. PB, if sustained throughout a person’s lifespan, is detrimental to robust mental and physical health. It starves the cells of oxygen and does a poor job of expelling carbon dioxide. Incorrect breathing in its own right can usher in a host of health problems.
The elephant in the diagnostic room
While AB helps with deep breathing and expanding the lungs, shallow breathing and PB reduce the functionality of the cardiovascular system to a suboptimal level. The heart rate is reduced, and homeostasis is weakened—as is the immune response.
Nature intends for respiration to be efficient, and inhalation and exhalation involve more than just breathing in and out. It is the natural expression of the life-force, expressed spontaneously.
Surprisingly, in a majority of cases, humans breathe incompetently. It is high time the elephant in the diagnostic room is recognized for what it is, and AB should be promoted in every clinic worth its salt. Lead your patients toward happy and deep abdominal breathing.
Sudhanva Char, PhD, has been teaching statistics, biostatistics, economics, and related disciplines at Life University for more than 20 years. He has written and published over a 100 peer-reviewed research papers and also a book on agricultural income tax. He has also been a certified yoga teacher for more than 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Brown RP, Gerberg PL. (2012). The Healing Power of the Breath. Simple Techniques
to Reduce Stress and Anxiety, Enhance Concentration, and Balance Your Emotions. Boulder, CO: Shambala Publications.
2 Char S, Carroll L. Yoga as a Complement to Chiropractic Care. J Vert Sublux Res. 2007;(Jul 19):1-9. Online access only.
3 Hanlon P. “Consider incorporating yoga into your chiropractic rehabilitation.” Chiropractic Economics. https://www.chiroeco.com/yoga- for-rehab. Published Jan 2017. Accessed July 2017.
4 Coulter DH. (2001). Anatomy of Hatha Yoga. A Manual for Students, Teachers and
Practioners. (Pp. 120, 67-137). Honesdale, PA: Body and Breath.