Your body’s ability to control breath rate is considered to be an autonomic function, much like your ability to control your heart rate or blood pressure, or digest food.1
These types of functions are automatically controlled by the autonomic nervous system. In essence, such functions occur without much in the way of conscious thought on your part most of the time, provided that your autonomic nervous system is functioning normally. In fact, although the human fetus does not breathe inside the womb, it will begin breath-like movements once the lungs have fully developed, which happens sometime during the second trimester.
While we may not put much thought into breathing most of the time, there are times in which we may find it very useful to not only be aware of our breath, as well as that of our patients, but find ways to help control it.
This can be done through a practice called breathwork, which has been used for centuries in yoga and meditation. How can you use breathwork to help both you and your patients relax and be more grounded?
Breathwork for you
Although our lungs work without any conscious input on your part, this does not mean that we are completely unaware of our breathing all the time. If we are under a great deal of stress or excitement, we are acutely aware that our breathing rate is much faster and shallower than if we are calm or at rest.
Unfortunately, breathing too fast if we are under a great deal of stress can lead to serious health consequences, such as hyperventilation.2 This can lead to not enough CO2 in the blood, which can make you dizzy and light headed. In severe cases, you may even faint.2
If you feel yourself becoming dizzy or light headed, using a breathwork technique known as a belly breath or core breath will help slow your breath and increase the amount of CO2 in your blood.2 Start by lying face up, with your knees bent. Place your hand on your stomach as you inhale deeply through your nose, letting your hand rise as your stomach expands. Exhale with your lips pursed. Repeat these breaths slowly 10 to 20 times until you feel yourself relax.
Breathwork for your patients
Furthermore, if our patients are tense and nervous while we are attempting to work on them, they may begin to breathe more quickly and shallowly, which can start a vicious cycle in which they will unconsciously tighten their muscles, making it more difficult for you to perform an adjustment. If patients already have pain due to chronic breathing issues, such as asthma or COPD, tensing up during an adjustment may exacerbate their condition.3
Combining breathwork with the adjustment can not only help relax your patient, but also make it easier for you to work on them. Have your patient do three of the belly breaths as described above, and verbally guide them to inhale and exhale. As they exhale for the third time, perform your adjustment. During the exhale, your patient will be relaxing their muscles, so they will not be fighting your attempts to perform the adjustment.
It will also serve as a cue to let them know exactly when you will be doing the adjustment. This can be particularly helpful for children or nervous first-time patients.
Similar to chiropractic itself, breathwork is most useful when it is practiced on a regular, ongoing basis. Ongoing yoga or meditation classes are an excellent resource to teach you and your patients the basics of breath work.
- Overview of the autonomic nervous system. Merck Manual: Consumer Edition. Accessed 9/10/2017.
- WebMD. Accessed 9/10/2017.
- Chaitow L. (2007). Breathing pattern disorders and back pain. In: Movement, Stability & Lumbopelvic Pain: Integration of Research and Therapy (2nd Ed.). Churchill Livingston, pp. 563-571.