Breathing is one of the most basic, yet fundamental, processes necessary for all of life – and it can have a significant impact on our mental and physical wellbeing. Each and every breath influences the activity of every cell in your body - fuelling the burning of oxygen and glucose to produce energy. This energy is used for muscular contraction, organ function and glandular secretion, mental processing, and many more important functions. Normally, adult humans breathe 12-20x per minute – that’s between 17,300 and 28,800 breaths per day. However… what if I told you that YOU’RE DOING IT ALL WRONG?! (Don’t worry, most of us are).
How do we breathe?
Before we can try to understand the benefits of breathing, we should learn a bit more about how breathing occurs… Breathing is an automatic process that is largely regulated in the primitive part of the human brain (the “brainstem”). Because it occurs automatically, we often take our breathing for granted and do not direct conscious awareness to it, unless it becomes abnormal. When we breathe in (inspiration), our diaphragm (main breathing muscle) contracts and lowers down towards our abdomen and the muscles between our ribs help to expand the chest wall, these processes allow our lungs to expand and fill with air (and most importantly, oxygen!) within the chest cavity. Breathing in through the nose is preferable to open-mouth breathing, as our nose is designed to filter and clean the air before it enters the lungs. When we breathe through our mouth, there is no filtration process and more nasty little bugs and pollutants from our environment enter our body, which increases the risk of chronic health conditions. Conversely, when we breathe out (expiration), the diaphragm relaxes and moves back upwards towards the chest cavity, the chest wall condenses, the lungs deflate and air (carrying carbon dioxide and other waste products from the body) is forcefully ejected out.
Breathing – How does it affect our mind and body?
Have you noticed that your breath changes depending on your thoughts and feelings? Our mind and bodies share an intimate link, and our mental state has a large impact on our physical state. Different emotions cause us to perform different expressions and gestures. For example, when we’re happy, we smile; when we’re sad, we frown.
A similar relationship is present with breathing. When we feel calm and safe, we breathe more deeply and slowly; whereas when we are stressed, our breathing may become shallower and faster. This is because we are under control of our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).
This nervous has two divisions:
Our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) – This is responsible for our “fight or flight” response, and causes our heart rate to increase, dilates our pupils, stimulates the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline which makes us sweat and feel agitated, and cause our muscles to become tense. It also makes our breathing shorter and sharper. Extended activation of our SNS means that our heart is working overtime, and the prolonged release of stress hormones can have damaging consequences on our bodies that lead to chronic diseases such as heart, stroke and vascular disease, and mental health disorders. This system also plays a role in sensitizing nerves that supply our bones and muscles and make us feel pain. This may cause us to feel more pain than we should for a given injury, or experience pain for longer than we would normally expect (which may be why you come to seek our care!).
Our Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) – This may also be referred to as our “Rest and Digest” system, and helps to create a relaxing effect on the body by slowing the heart rate, stimulating digestion, and slowing our breathing. It also has a calming affect on our minds. When we are in “rest and digest” mode, we give our bodies a chance to recover and heal, and become more balanced.
So, to put it simply, by consciously paying attention to our breathing and working to breathe slowly and deeply, we can suppress our SNS (fight or flight) system, and activate our PSNS (rest and digest) system – thus making us feel more calm and relaxed. Long term, it may also mean that we can decrease our risk of many types of mental and physical chronic diseases, and may also help decrease the amount of pain we feel in chronic pain conditions.
Controlling your breath
Great, now we know how breathing occurs, and why breathing properly is important for our health. So, where do we start?! Yogis knew that controlling your breath was important long before it was researched in modern medicine, and they developed techniques to control the breath, which is known as pranayama (coming from the root words prana = ‘vital energy’, or ‘life force’; and yama = ‘control’). Basically, pranayama techniques use breathing to influence the flow of energy within the body. There are many different types of breathing techniques, each with their own benefits, but let’s start with basics:
1. Sit in a comfortable, upright posture or lie on your back, and relax the whole body
2. Observe the natural and spontaneous breathing process (but breathe through your nose!), developing awareness of the rhythmic flow of breath. Do not try to control the breath in any way. You can shift your awareness to the following areas:
Try to take notice of your breathing rhythm. How fast or slow is it? How shallow or deep is it? Also take notice of how you are feeling, and see if you notice that your emotions are affecting your breath.
Abdominal (diaphragmatic) breathing
1. Lie on your back and relax the entire body
2. Place your right hand just above your belly button, and your left hand
over the centre of your chest
3. Inhaling through the nose, “Breathe into your stomach” and focus your
attention on your right hand moving up towards the ceiling (or stars)
with inhalation, and down with exhalation.
compressing back towards your spine until there is no air left.
Many of us do not use our diaphragm to its full potential when we breathe. This
technique teaches us to activate it more completely and improve our capacity to
take air into the lungs.
Rhythmic breathing (box breathing)
1. Lie in a comfortable, upright posture or on your back, and relax the entire
2. Take a few moments to observe your natural breathing rhythm
3. Inhale slowly and deeply through the nose, allowing the abdomen to
expand fully (try to breathe so slowly that little to no sound of the breath
can be heard) – try to make this inhalation last 4 seconds.
4. At the top of the inhalation, hold your breath and mentally count “1,2,3,4”,
before slowly exhaling (through the nose), feeling the abdomen be drawn
back towards the spine. Also try to make this exhalation last 4 seconds.
5. At the end of the expiration, mentally count “1,2,3,4” before starting the
Consciously slowing our breathing will help dull down the SNS ("fight or flight”) system, and help activate our PSNS (“rest and digest”) system. Just like every other skill, breathing well takes practice, and practice makes perfect. Specifically, you may find your mind wandering and it is hard to maintain attention on your breath. That is normal, and it is okay. The more you practice, the easier it will become!
These are just some basic exercises. If you need more help, a quick google or YouTube search will give you plenty of results for guided breathing exercises, which might be a good place to start if you are finding it difficult. Apps on our phones… and even smart watches, may give us reminders to breathe! They may seem like annoying notifications, especially since they probably pop up at times when we feel busy and stressed and don’t have time… but it might be worth starting to take more notice of these notifications. 2020 has shown some unprecedented times due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
Many of us are under increased stress due to work or personal circumstances, or feel negative emotions such as loneliness or frustration. Why not try “breathing away” some of these negative emotions, and taking control of your health!
By Angus Nicol
Do you, or someone you know, suffer from low back pain? If so, you are not alone. Studies show that 8 in 10 adults will experience low back pain at some point in their lives. If you are one of those people, this article will look at three tools that you can use to assist you in managing your pain.
Have you been putting up with low back pain for what feels like forever? Has this resulted in you giving up on being physically active? If so, take note.
Continuing to be physically active is crucial in preventing and assisting in recovery of low back pain. Research has shown that regular aerobic activity such as going for a walk can increase blood flow and nutrients to the low back which can assist in many ways such as decreasing stiffness and rigidity. Aerobic exercise has also been shown to increase the body’s production of endorphins, but what does this mean? Endorphins are not only the bodies natural pain relief; they can also improve ones overall well being. Thirdly, aerobic exercise can assist in preventing weight gain, or assist in weight loss. Carrying extra weight is going to place more stress on the lower back, so keeping this in check is vital to the well being of the lumber spine.
When was the last time you did some form of core strengthening exercise? If you’re suffering from low back pain, or want to prevent injury/ damage to the low back and can’t recall when the last time you activated your core, then this section is for you. A multitude of studies have demonstrated that improving activation and strength of all the core muscles (not just transverse abdominal, your 6 pack) in patients with low back pain, resulted in improved function and a decrease in pain. To make a start on your core activation and strength, check out our blog on the McGill three.
For the link, click here: what-is-core-stability-the-mcgill-3-core-exercises-for-back-pain.html
Get professional management. Come in and see my-self or one of the other osteopaths at HMC. We are professionally trained to help you. Not only can we provide manual treatment to assist you in your healing process and help reduce your symptoms, we are also able to help formulate a simple set of tasks to ensure you have the best chance at recovery and equip you with management strategies that put you in charge of your health.
Ignoring your pain is only going to cause progressive worsening and/or weakening of your low back. So why not go for a walk, begin some core strengthening exercises or come in for a treatment and discuss a management strategy to better your quality of life!
Health and wellness are important aspects of crisis management. Throughout this COVID-19 pandemic and every other crisis, you should pay particular attention to your health. You do not have to contract the virus for your health to be significantly affected by current events. These days we all are in midst of one of the biggest health crises of this century. We are facing an unprecedented disaster; a novel disease with COVID-19, economic instability, looming recession and uncertainty in the stock market.
During these troubled times maintaining your health and wellness can be a real challenge. With gyms closed and no group activities due to social distancing, it becomes really difficult to exercise regularly. Most of the people are working from their homes so their mobility is greatly reduced. In such situations looking after your physical and psychological health can be difficult but there are ways which you can maintain both.
Your body, mind and spirit probably have no idea how to cope with the situations you are facing right now. This is why paying particular attention to your health is of the utmost importance. The pandemic will eventually come to an end. When it does, you want your body, mind and spirit to be at optimal health.
Here are our top tips for maintaining optimal health during these times of uncertainty:
Maintain your sleeping routine
The biggest challenge that many people face during uncertainty is the disturbance of their sleeping routine. Sleep hygiene is essential for a healthy lifestyle, therefore, properly maintaining your sleeping routine is an integral part of health management.
You may have noticed that, even with all the free time you have, you are not sleeping better. Sleep is essential for maintaining optimal physical and mental health. When you maintain proper sleep hygiene, your body and mind function much more efficiently allowing you to make sound and rational decisions. Most importantly, adequate sleep along with quality sleep strengthens the immune system.
The quality of sleep you get is based on the efforts you put into maintaining proper sleep hygiene. Measures for maintaining sleep hygiene include:
Limit Screen Time before bed
• The blue light emitted from computers, phones, tablets etc. can impact your circadian rhythm (sleep/wake regulator) which can keep you up for much longer periods of time
Limiting daytime naps
• It may be tempting to have an afternoon ‘nanna-nap’, but try to limit these in the latter part of the day. Early afternoon is the best time, particularly if you are an early riser.
Avoiding stimulants 2-3 hours before bed
• The key is allow your body to “switch off”. Limit stimulants such as caffeine and sugar so that your body is ready to start slowing down before bed.
Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine
• It’s time to nurture yourself and prepare for the peaceful slumber ahead. Establishing a regular routine allows your body to prepare for the nights rest by signalling to the brain that it’s time to switch off.
Creating a pleasant sleeping environment.
• Make your bedroom a peaceful place to rest. Fluff up your pillows, light a candle or play some soothing music… Your body will thank you in the morning.
Keep your Diet simple
Healthy eating plays an essential role in health and wellness during a crisis. When you eat nutritious meals, your body and mind are better equipped to stay healthy throughout the crisis. Foods rich in antioxidants such as fruits and vegetables should be an important part of your diet. When planning meals think of a ‘healthier version’ of the meal.
A simple diet is not only healthy but it is also easy to digest. Some simple steps to include are:
• Do not forget your neighbourhood fruit and veggie shop. Generally, many of these shops source their produce locally.
• Eating watermelon in the middle of winter has become a privilege we have become accustomed too. Eat foods that you would generally find in the Autumn season. How about those growing pumpkins!
• Do not forget about the most important isle in the supermarket… the Produce Section. While you may want to limit the amount of time you spend shopping, when you do, remember the first isle in the supermarket. Fruit and vegetables contain so many nutritious vitamins and mineral. Everything your immune system needs to fight off an infection.
Enjoy your downtime
Keeping yourself calm and stress free can be a big challenge especially when you’re locked down at home. But you can try using this time to give some rest to your mind, body, and soul. Too often we get wrapped up in needing to ‘DO SOMETHING’ or “ACHIEVE our GOALS”. Having downtime to rest, recover and integrate is essential for a healthy life. Your busy life is often focused on the ‘next thing’, or the ‘To-do-list’, or ‘what the news is saying’ or the…. This is a time to switch gears, drop down into neutral and let yourself coast while you some the time. Listen and pay attention to the subtle signals that your body is trying to tell you.
Use this downtime to rediscover yourself focusing on the important things in your life. When was the last time you allowed yourself to ‘JUST BE’, rather than ‘JUST DOING’? Try yoga, give yourself a luxurious spa treatment in your home, or start a puzzle. Try to enjoy your downtime as the much awaited ‘me time’ that you always wanted.
This is where we can let our creative energy spark forward. So many people have seen their daily exercise routine cease to exist. Social distancing and the closure of many of our gyms, F45 classes, Crossfit sessions and countless others have come to a halt. How are you filling this time at home?
Incidental Exercise could be the missing link during these uncertain times. This involves making ‘every-day’ activities into a gym routine. How many times have you climbed the stairs in your house or apartment complex? What about doing some lunges when you are vacuuming the floor? Have you tried parking at the back of the carpark when you go to get groceries? There are so many ways we can incorporate exercise and mobility into our daily activities. Get creative and watch your body come alive!
Stay connected with your loved ones
As people are staying indoors to prevent the spread of Covid-19, it is more important to keep in touch with your loved ones. Regularly check-in on your loved ones, friends and family members to keep their spirits high. The most important thing right now is to stay positive and spread positivity.
Meditation is an activity for maintaining mental, physical and spiritual health. By meditating, you take a step back and reflect on activities. Instead of having your mind continuously running, when you meditate, you maintain peace and stillness in your own space. Mindfulness meditation is an important form of meditation during a crisis.
The take home message is to CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL and allow the rest to unfold around you. So many social liberties have been put ‘on hold’ which makes it very easy to stay pessimistic or focus on the tragedy surrounding us. When you control the things you can control like Sleep Hygiene, Simple Eating, Enjoying your Downtime, Incidental Exercise, you will be amazed at how much power this gives you. Your health and the health of your family are the most important aspects to control right now, make it your number one priority and watch your body, mind and spirit respond.
rest is never the fix...
When was the last time you went to an allied health practitioner and were told to ‘rest’? Eliminating what triggers your pain for a few weeks will likely decrease your symptoms, it is never a final solution. Chances are the pain will eventually return because you never addressed why the problem started in the first place.
Eliminating the movement, posture or load that causes your pain is only half of the battle in alleviating pain in an injury. Anyone can tell you to stop doing something that hurts. Eliminating symptoms and building your body to become more resilient to future injury requires a different and more active approach. Let’s kick-start an active approach, by learning about our body’s ‘core’ and how it’s function relates to both the cause and fix of injury.
What is Core-stability?
The biggest misperception is that your core comprises of your rectus abdominis (6-pack) and this alone. It is composed of the abdominal muscles on your front and sides, the erector muscles of the back and even the larger muscles that span multiple joints (like the lats and psoas- hip flexor muscles). It may surprise you that the glutes are also an important part of the ‘core’. Each and every one of these muscles must work together in order to enhance the stability of the spine.
It is the stiffness part that is important for stability. Think of the spine as a flexible rod that needs to be stiffened to bear load. This is the role of the muscles. When the core fails to meet the stability demands placed on the body during a certain lift, parts of the spine will be overloaded with forces that increase injury risk and performance will suffer.
Stuart Mcgill’s research has shown that isometric exercises to enhance muscular endurance are far superior when compared to dynamic strengthening exercises in enhancing spinal stiffness and stability (making them ideal not only for rehabilitation of back injuries but also in the training and enhancement of athletic performance). Dynamic strengthening e.g. the conventional crunch in times of back pain can be of detriment due to repetitive flexion which loads structures like your discs suboptimally, causing pain in cases.
Why you need to be an active participant in your recovery.
Another misperception people have is that allied health practitioners can fix everything solely through manual therapy consultations. In reality both the practitioner and patient play an equal role on the road to recovery. I.e. an exercise regime contributes drastically to your recovery and maintenance not just the treatment itself. Not being an active participant can lead to delayed recovery and longer prognosis periods. The benefits of taking control of your own health include reduced pain levels, faster recovery times which is also linked to improved psychological health.
The Mcgill 3
For those in lower back pain, these 3 isometric exercises can help stabilize your spine through strengthening the core as mentioned above.
Modified curl up
Step 1: Lie on your back with one knee bent and the other straight. If you currently have pain that radiates down one leg, flatten that leg out against the ground. Place your hands under your low back (this will ensure your spine remains in a neutral slightly arched position during the next step).
Step 2: Pick your head off the ground only a few inches and hold that position for 10 seconds. If you’re resting your head on a pillow, imagine it as a scale and lift your head off of it only enough to make it read “zero” on the dial or screen.2 The goal is to perform this curl-up without any movement in the low back! If you raise your head and shoulders too high (like a traditional curl-up or crunch) your low back will round and excessive forces will be transferred to the spine that could increase your symptoms.
Step 3: After a 10 second hold, relax your head back down to the resting position.
The side plank is a unique exercise as it activates the lateral oblique and QL muscles on only one side of the body, making it an excellent choice for addressing weak links in stability while placing minimal forces on the spine.
Step 1:Lie on your side with your legs bent and upper body supported through your elbow. Place your free hand on your opposite shoulder.
Step 2: Raise your hips so that only your knee and arm support your bodyweight.
Step 3: Hold this position for 10 seconds before returning back down. Perform the same descending pyramid rep-scheme for each side.
Step 1:Assume an ‘All 4’s’ position (quadruped) with your back in a neutral alignment. Remember a ‘neutral’ position is a very slight arch and not completely flat.
Step 2:Without allowing any movement to occur at the low back, kick one of your legs backwards while simultaneously raising the opposite side arm until both extremities are fully straightened. A helpful cue to make sure the leg movement doesn’t create an over-arching of your back is to think about kicking the heel of your foot straight back.
Step 3:Hold each extended pose for 10 seconds before returning back to the starting All 4’s position.
Ghorbanpour, A., Azghani, M. R., Taghipour, M., Salahzadeh, Z., Ghaderi, F., & Oskouei, A. E. (2018). Effects of McGill stabilization exercises and conventional physiotherapy on pain, functional disability and active back range of motion in patients with chronic non-specific low back pain. Journal of physical therapy science, 30(4), 481–485. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.30.481
As an Osteopath, I often get asked this question, “ What is a Wellness Approach to Health Care?”. With so many clinics changing their approach to focus on Wellness rather than Symptoms and Disease, it’s important to distinguish the differences between these two competing thoughts of health care.
Our intention as Osteopaths is to move away from a model of health that focuses solely on the absence of disease. Health is much more than merely eliminating painful symptoms, experiencing peaks and troughs often with symptoms never fully resolving. It’s easy to succumb to these patterns as mainstream thinking often assumes that this is the only way. Taking a pill to mask the symptoms has become commonplace leaving many people without an alternative.
As we start to search for alternative methods, the Wellness Model of Health begins to emerge as a sensible, practical and commonsense approach. (http://www.who.int/bulletin/archives/80(12)981.pdf).
The World Health Organisation has defined health as, “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” In recent years, the Biopsychosocial model of health has gained momentum as it embodies a much broader context of healthcare. By integrating the biological (how your body functions), psychological (how you think and behave) and social (how you live your life) components into one cohesive framework, holism begins to take form.
As Osteopaths, we embrace a holistic model of health that incorporates all of the elements that make you whole. By assessing how your body moves and functions, along with uncovering your attitudes towards health, pain and recovery as well as questioning how you use your body on a daily basis, we get much closer to unraveling the underlying cause of your symptoms. This is where wellness begins to take centre stage as we strive to not only resolve your symptoms but also move you closer to achieving optimal well-being.
Below is a description of how Osteopathic treatment differs from mainstream methods as it perfectly characterises how we approach our patient consultations. I couldn’t have said it better myself….
“The DO (Dr of Osteopathy) Difference
It makes a difference when your physician is trained to truly listen. To pay more attention to you than your chart. To look beyond the symptoms and take the time to get to know you as a whole person”
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine believe there’s more to good health than the absence of pain or disease. As guardians of wellness, DOs focus on prevention by gaining a deeper understanding of your lifestyle and environment, rather than just treating your symptoms.
Listening to you and partnering in your care are at the heart of our holistic, empathic approach to medicine. We are trained to promote the body’s natural tendency toward health and self-healing. We practice according to the latest science and use the latest technology. But we also consider options to complement pharmaceuticals and surgery.
We are Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine and the way we practice health care is different. We don’t see patients. We see people.”
Are you a victim of your hormones? Would you like to learn how to work with your monthly cycle? Did you know women are not small men?
Without the correct treatment and management of simple shoulder injuries you run the risk of the problem worsening beyond repair. Your tendons can calcify, essentially turning into bone. Small muscle tears can slowly become large until eventually your tissues separate completely. Lack of mobility eventually freezes your shoulder (frozen shoulder is a painful condition that results in approximately 90% loss of movement). Your bursas, small lubricating sacks, can inflame so much they become unresponsive to injections and medications. Neck pain can set into a chronic pattern, resulting in sometimes severe headaches.
On the contrary, a few simple measures like professional management from someone who knows what they are doing and a clear, simple to implement set of tasks you can do yourself can turn the whole thing around before it permanently impacts your life. Your tendons will heal themselves given the opportunity. Your body can regulate the inflammatory response and get on with healing tears and bursas. Your neck pain can be alleviated and headaches avoided. If you get on top of things early steroid injections and medications that will damage your gut can be avoided completely.
Too often we see people who have gone through a lot of pain that could easily be avoided. Arm yourself with knowledge and avoid these super common mistakes.
Shoulder injuries can be debilitating, or they can be easy. If you need some help with this, know someone who does, or you have some more personal questions regarding this issue you can DM me and I’d be more than happy to send you some relevant information that can help get you started on treating yourself. If you know you’ll need hands on help feel free to call the office on 07 5482 7214 for an appointment, or click below to book online.
say goodbye the monthly drama!
Millions of women suffer every month with period pain. Period pain has become so normalized in our society that you may believe that you are destined to put up with it month in, month out, until you reach menopause where you will be greeted by a host of other hormone related symptoms! The good news is both period pain and the symptoms of menopause may be lessened by implementing the following guidelines.
This video is an interesting representation of the amazing connective tissue that envelopes the human body. It is worth remembering that our cells are constantly vibrating.
Our practitioners work closely with the fascia, amongst other tissues, to optimise your health.