August 10, 2015
My friend Mike White, the Optimal Breathing Coach, built a career out of helping people breathe better. I have seen his exercises help people on various breathing medications who were too winded to walk across the room be able to walk to the parking lot and back again. His breathing exercises help measure improvements in breathing from continued practice.
Not content with practicing and teaching, he has also researched reported symptoms of breathing difficulty from people with various diseases such as ADHD, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Sleep Disorders and many more. The data reveals clients with these conditions reported increased symptoms related to poor breathing and increased stress. They also reported improvement in their stress after working on his breathing exercises.
When I received my second cochlear implant, I loved being able to hear in stereo but I hated the sound of my voice. It was too high, it squeaked, and stressed me out. Mike discovered I was not moving my diaphragm enough with deep breaths to relax my solar plexus nerves and muscles. The mid stomach and mid chest are the location of a hub of nerves that raises heart rate, blood pressure, and tightens neck and voice muscles. After he worked with me to improve my breathing by helping me feel and hear the difference I relaxed, had better control of the volume and power of my voice, felt calmer, and the sound of my voice changed to be much more pleasant.
I discovered that even my previous work of public speaking, yoga, and singing made me realize how much my voice was connected to my breathing. His coaching, spotting me, intervening to correct my habitual patterns while teaching me what to monitor and practice were essential to the process. He taught me about "Superman Syndrome" which is where we suck in our gut and push out our chest, which limits our diaphragm and the amount of oxygen we breathe in so that only our upper lungs are filled. The lower lung fields are where the largest reservoir of air exchange occurs.
We have a natural fear response for faster quick breaths so if we stay stressed our muscles actually habitually learn to reverse the pattern needed for deeper relaxation breathing. Instead we breathe too fast all day long. If we are breathing incorrectly or "stressfully", it will increase the overall body stress we feel and affect our brain's perception of how stressed we feel.
When we need to relax or to take a deep breath we should be moving our abdomen and lower lungs out on the in breath and keeping the shoulders relaxed or in neutral position. I see many kids that think it is the opposite. If you have a hard time reversing it, then you have been in a stress pattern of breathing for awhile. Luckily, it is an easy thing for a parent to focus on and watch.
I do need to add though that this is the normal pattern for older kids (2y and up) and adults. Babies and infants breathe shallower and faster naturally and in them we watch for the work of the breathing or the sucking in of the muscles between the ribs, under the rib cage, and the sternum movement to determine when they are having trouble breathing.
It fascinates me that the way we are breathing and thus our stress levels is one of the ways our children adjust their stress. A nervous anxious person does not breathe deeply enough to trigger relaxation and the hormone oxytocin which is important in social communication. This is why a baby will be fussier when held by a nervous person over someone calmer, more relaxed, and more confident that she will be able to comfort the baby. When a baby calms they tend to take a big breathe in and let out a sigh then their quick crying breaths decrease and stop and you can see them exhale more. When older children are exhaling more easily and visibly they are more relaxed. This is an excellent observation point for parents to learn to monitor so they can remember to adjust their own breathing when their kids are stressed to help increase oxytocin (the feeling social hormone) and be better able to address a meltdown or other tense situation.