I have compiled a list of the 5 most common questions I get about the breath from my friends, colleagues, patients and athletes. If you have one, please send it through.
1. Do we take breathing for granted? Is it something we should be devoting more attention towards?
Its useful to think of our breathing like our heart. We breath without thinking about it, and our heart also beats without us thinking about it. However, unlike our heart we have a lot of control over our breathing system and its an important key to controlling our physiology.
Think about the old remedy for an anxiety attack, the brown paper bag method. A classic symptom of an anxiety attack is over breathing, this reduces our Carbon Dioxide levels. Readers may think of this as beneficial, however if uncontrolled, can drive an anxiety attack with symptoms of confusion, tingling sensations, and muscle cramps. So the paper bag method is used to increase C02 levels again and alleviate the symptoms, so someone can re-gain control of their breath.
There are many conditions which affect the breathing system, Asthma, COPD, Ex-smokers and Sleep Apnoea. So for any people suffering from these conditions, they should be devoting more time to rehabilitate their breathing system.
2. How is it that our breath could help treat/prevent a range of health ailments?
Our breathing system is a powerful tool which can aid in the treatment of many conditions. I will briefly outline the science behind the management of these conditions.
Asthma – by strength training the respiratory system, clear evidence shows improved symptom control, reduced hospitilisations, reduced levels of shortness of breath and reduced reliever medication use for asthmatics. (Weiner et al. 1992)
Anxiety & stress – The breath is a powerful tool to tap into our nervous system and help people control symptoms of stress and anxiety. Fletcher techniques adopts a Volume training approach to start a program, participants learn to control inspiration and expiration under various conditions using visual software feedback. Once participants can control their breath, they can control their symptoms, heart rate and can start building some tools to manage their condition.
Respiratory complaints – COPD and lung disease usually caused by smoking and long-term exposure to pollutants is why Fletcher techniques is where it is today. My mother was diagnosed with a long-term lung condition, and living in a 2 storey walk up commission house, her shortness of breath was putting a strain on her quality of life and cost of living. Patients see great results by strength training their breathing muscles giving them lower shortness of breath levels, improved exercise capacity and most importantly improved quality of life (Gosselink, 2012)
Snoring & sleep apnoea – having worked in the sleep industry for a number of years, snoring and sleep apnoea ruins relationships, creates disease and causes increased daytime fatigue levels. A new method to address these without the need for medication and CPAP devices is high load training using the Fletcher technique method. Participants undergo a 2 week, warm up protocol and then begin a high load program for 4 weeks which is only 30 breaths twice daily. (Vranish, 2016)
Post-pregnancy rehabilitation – I have worked with many Women to re-gain proper functional breathing and management of lower back pain during and after pregnancy. Obviously, with a growing baby in the uterus, normal diaphragmatic breathing is impeded for some time. Fletcher techniques is a drug free, simple approach to the management and rehabilitation of Women as they move through a challenging time for their body.
3. How should we train the breath – depth, focus etc? How can we ‘breathe better’? What are some tips?
A simple tip that all readers can do right now is to place both hands on the belly, and with the next inspiration fill your hands as you take a deep breath through the nose. Take 5 seconds to take a full breath in, now purse the lips and exhale for 10 seconds. Repeat this for 2 minutes each day to start to breathe better.
A focus for Fletcher techniques is to take the breathing muscles to the gym, if you strength train the breathing muscles you make breathing easier! If your readers visit the website fletchertechniques.com we can arrange a consultation for people looking to strength train their breathing muscles. Like all gym programs, they should be supervised at the early stages and the 5 consult model allows all participants to achieve amazing results.
4. How can breathing and your rate of breath at rest and during activity affect how you train? does it affect endurance, stamina, anxiety?
It has been well proven that the breathing muscles become tired when we exercise, this affects performance levels. By making the breathing muscles more resistant to fatigue we see performance improvements, in particular the ability to train at higher intensities for longer periods of time.
Every person is different and the breath affects us physiologically and psychologically. It is important that each person understands what they want to achieve or what condition they are treating before undertaking a breath training program. A popular ‘breathing expert’ Wim Hof uses his breath to control the acidity of the blood and employs a form of hyperventilation to achieve these states. These techniques may not be appropriate for asthmatics as the high rates of breathing may trigger an asthma attack. Patients with lung disease may also find themselves in trouble shifting the acidity of the blood by actually reducing the oxygen available to the tissues which is contrary to popular belief.
5. Can you tell me a bit about how you employ breath training when working with athletes and performers?
What we find in practice all athletes are different, and all sports have different respiratory requirements and the best way to explain is to use case examples from a variety of sports.
We helped Cameron McEvoy (Australian swim Team – Freestyle) improve his inspiratory flow rate, so he can take a faster breath and reduce the time he has his head turned during his race. We also strengthened his inspiratory muscles to delay fatigue of the breathing muscles, in particular for swimmers their work of breathing is higher than land based athletes.
We also recently worked with Ryan Hipwood (WSL Big Wave surfer) before the Peahi big wave event improving the volumes of air he can take in before being wiped out by a 40+ft wave. Also we improved his ability to control anxiety with Fletcher techniques, sometimes waiting 20 minutes in the channel waiting for a life or death situation and the ride of his life.
Stuart McKenzie, a Cirque Du Soleil acrobat has employed Flethcer techniques to help rehabilitate his injured lower back and improve his core strength suffering a recent injury during a performance. It is proven that the diaphragm in particular is instrumental to the core function and management of chronic lower back pain (Kolar et al, 2012).
I live on the Gold Coast and consult from a number of Physiotherapy practices in South East Queensland. My main focus at the moment is working with the Australian Institute of Sport athletes, as a Physiotherapist and Exercise Physiologist I look forward to improving the lives and performance of Australians.