How to Breathe

If you’re a patient of ours, you know proper breathing technique is a big deal in our practice. In fact, one of the foundational exercises we use in both therapy and training here at Capitol Rehab of Richmond is what we call “diaphragm calisthenics”–what many of the patients and athletes we work with call “the breathing exercise”.

Just last week, a patient asked me, “I have one friend seeing you for a shoulder injury, another for a bad knee, and a third for improving athletic performance, and you have us all doing the breathing exercise? Why do you have us all doing the same thing?”

The cornerstone of most training and exercise regimens is strengthening the so-called “core muscles”. It’s just that most trainers consider the abdominals the most important core muscles, when in fact, the diaphragm is absolutely critical for good posture and ideal movement patterns.

In the 1980’s, a group of Australian physical therapists discovered that before any other movement can occur (eg. shoulder movement, hip movement, knee movement), these core muscles must activate (or “turn on”) first.♦

Of all the “core muscles”, the diaphragm is the most important. It attaches across the lower ribcage and has a dual function: breathing and support. The diaphragm activates first (along with the “transverse abdominis” muscle), even before the rest of the core muscles do.

While your trainer might be telling you to do more planks to strengthen and activate your core, you will see far more success if you strengthen the diaphragm before anything else. According to the late professor emeritus Karel Lewit, M.D. and many other experts, no other movement or posture can be ideal until the diaphragm stereotype (program in the brain) is ideal.

So whether you have shoulder pain, knee pain, arthritis, restless leg syndrome, back pain, or Parkinson’s, we’re going to start you off learning how to really breathe with your diaphragm and then create a customized treatment program with that foundation. Proper breathing technique is necessary for ideal posture and movement patterns, which is in turn crucial for reducing pain, improving mobility, and achieving peak performance.

The reflexes that are stimulated during your therapy in our office activates the diaphragm immediately, so that the diaphragm breathing exercise you do at home creates a quicker response in your brain, making the new pattern automatic and permanent.

Therein lies the foundation for the DNS approach, which is the basis of Capitol Rehab’s Functional Integrated Therapy and Training.