What do Louis Jackson, Kevyn McAnlis, Kelly Starrett* and twenty five million Americans all have in common? None of us can breathe….well maybe that’s being a little extreme, but we do have asthma. As mentioned in my previous blog, asthmatics suffer from chronically constricted airways, causing an over use of their secondary breathing muscles. These secondary breathing muscles are there to help when you are under attack or, more likely nowadays after a long run, but they are not meant to do the majority of breathing for you. They are there to help when the body has over exerted itself and needs to pull in more oxygen to offset the carbon dioxide being produced. They are not meant to be a primary source of breath, a job is meant for the diaphragm and external intercostals, not the muscles of the neck and back.
I met Louis Jackson in the first week of my Yoga Tune Up® training. During one of our breaks, I approached Louis about how he handles his asthma and he pointed me to the Coregeous® DVD. Along with this he suggested I practice breathing on the Coregeous® ball to help release my over worked breathing muscles. Armed with new knowledge and excited about trying out his technique, I headed home to explore.
Laying flat on my stomach, I placed the Coregeous® ball under my sternum/ribs and began to breath deeply, with each inhale pressing my chest into the ball and with every exhale allowing the ball to sink deeper into my tissues. Now, I’m not going to lie, that first breath was a little shocking. My tired body had trouble handling the extreme stretch I received as the ball burrowed it’s way between my ribs soothing and stretching into my intercostals and upper back. The amount of release I felt with each breath was amazing and when I finally came off the ball, my breathing had deepened and relaxed. That was just the beginning. I soon began researching and understanding more about my breathing habits and found ways to soothe my tired muscles.
Struggling for breath due to asthma had left me with ultra-strained secondary breathing muscles. I began practicing abdominal thoracic breathing more regularly throughout my day to help reconfigure my breathing patterns as well as working with uddiyana bandha to release and relax my diaphragm. Much like the process created with the Coregeous ball, you can use your Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls to ease the stiff breathing muscles in the neck and upper back. By placing the therapy ball right around the ‘back pack strap’ area of the upper back, you can lock into a large portion of your secondary breathing muscles, including the upper trapezius and levator scapulae. Placing the balls here and lifting your hips onto a block to increase the pressure if needed, begin to breathe deeply. Play with your breath, exploring the different ways air can enter and exit your lungs taking abdominal, thoracic and clavicular breaths. Feel free to move in any way that feels good, just be sure to keep your breath flowing and relaxed. If you roll the balls just slightly south of here, you will hit another big breathing muscle, the serratus posterior superior. This muscle lies deep to the rhomboids and can be quite pesky when aggravated. Once again play with the breath and move around as you see fit. See how to do this in the video below!
One of the amazing things about Yoga Tune Up® is how it gives us the power to alleviate muscle tension as part of our daily practice. With these simple exercises, we can unlock our secondary breathing muscles, reduce strain, and bring deep, rich, beautiful breath back into our day. Happy breathing!
*Read more about Kelly Starrett’s journey as an Asthma Athlete and how he used Therapy Balls to rescusistate his breath and erase debilitating wrist pain in The Roll Model by Jill Miller.