The Role of Exhalation
Our society is constantly on the move. Most of us hardly take the time to slow down and breathe. The majority of us are stuck in a sympathetic, fight-or-flight mode. Creating undesirable tension throughout our bodies. We have hyper inflated rib cages that make it difficult to move. Flat diaphragms that make it difficult to breathe and properly stabilize our spines. Exhalation allows the body to move into a parasympathetic, rest-and-reset mode, and the benefits of full exhalation are immense.
When we get a hyper inflated chest with stale air in our lungs it is seen through compression of the mid-back (thoracic spine). In this area is the very important sympathetic trunk of our nervous system. If you puff your chest out, are stuck in an anterior pelvic tilt, or have hyper inflated lungs most likely you’re aggravating your sympathetic trunk, and in turn your ability to relax not only your muscles but every system in your body.
As we full exhale, the ribs should move into internal rotation which is a 3-dimensional movement. The ribs need to move down, back, and close down into the center of the abdomen. This movement of the ribs allows for the diaphragm to fully dome into its normal resting state. This domed position allows the diaphragm to pulled directly down towards the pelvic floor allowing for posterior expansion. This posterior expansion is how you decompress your spine naturally. This is also how to relieve tension in your superficial muscles. Got neck pain? Yep, its probably from your inability to fully exhale so you can’t use your diaphragm to its fullest capabilities so you have to over recruit muscles in your neck just so you can get air into your lungs.
The rule in movement is that you must move back before you can move forward. This is most easily seen in walking. If you start from a standing position, you must first shift down and back into one of your hips to stabilize your center of mass in order to bring the other leg forward. How do you later like your center of mass you ask? By bringing your ribcage into internal rotation and pushing the internal forces of your body down into that hip, this is getting air back so that you can move forward.
So full exhalation puts our diaphragm in a better position to create 360 degrees of expansion through the abdominal cavity and thoracic cage. This is the prerequisite for all human movement and movement variability in the system. If we have stagnant air sitting in our lungs it reduces our ability to have variability with in our movement. We become stuck in a certain position, overloading tissues, and eventually creating a pain signal.
Also, if the diaphragm is domed and in a better position to pulled straight down towards the pelvic floor it can better be utilized in its 3rd function, lower esophageal sphincter. This is for all the people out there with GERD, or acid reflux. An inability to properly use the diaphragm leads to the lower esophagus staying open and for acid from the stomach to creep up creating a burning sensation that is mostly treated with over-the-counter medication. But, what if you could control the issue on your own, without the use of medication, just be fully exhaling to position your diaphragm in a way that can close the lower esophageal sphincter? Pretty cool, right?
Just like any other joint in your body the ribcage wants to be able to move. A healthy ribcage should be able to rotate, flex, extend, side-bend, and move in all directions. The key is to retrain movement variability of the ribcage and learn to control the pressures and forces inside your body.