Osteopathic Journals and Research by Darren Chandler


Breathing: doing it right!

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  • Three effects of incorrect breathing: pain, digestive problems & anxiety
  • What causes and maintains faulty breathing
  • Breathing exercises
    • Correct day to day breathing technique
    • Breathing exercise to work your muscles

Three effects of incorrect breathing: pain, digestive problems and anxiety

If you didn’t walk correctly you’d expect to get pain when you walk. If you didn’t breath correctly, understandably, you’d expect pain or shortness of breathe when you breath. This isn’t necessarily always the case. On average we take up to 23,040 breaths a day. Multiply that over the years! Imagine if each breath required a bit more effort and didn’t quite get as much air in as it should. This is how, over the years, you develop a ‘breathing pattern disorder’.

Breathing pattern disorders can give three main symptoms: pain, digestive problems and anxiety.


You use 93 muscles all over your body to breath. You use them 93 muscles up to 23,040 times a day 7 days a week. It pays to use them correctly! A recent study on breathing pattern disorders found a strong correlation between incorrect breathing patterns and poor posture, shoulder blade, low back, neck and jaw (TMJ) pain(1).

Digestive problems

The main muscle you use to breath is your diaphragm. Your diaphragm separates your chest from your stomach. When you breath in your diaphragm pushes down on your stomach to massage your organs. If you’re breathing correctly and your diaphragm is moving correctly then the organs in your stomach are getting a daily massage! Correct breathing also regulates the nerve that goes to your bowels(2). How you breath can also affect heart-burn(3) as well as bloating associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)(4).


Not getting enough breathe in makes our body more acidic (respiratory acidosis)(5) and breathing too heavily (getting too much breathe in) makes our body more alkaline (respiratory alkalosis)(1,6). Unless in extreme cases where you can’t get enough air breathed in (e.g. disease of your airways) or you breath too heavily (e.g. anxiety attack) this acid-alkaline shift is quite subtle. However breathing incorrectly day to day can impact the acid-alkaline balance in our body and affects anxiety or panic disorders (6,7).

What causes and maintains faulty breathing

  • Psychological causes: depressed or anxious mood states affects our use of breathing(5-7) and sighing(7).
  • Biochemical: Asthma suffers can find their symptoms exacerbating just before or during their period. Asthma can also start around puberty in females and around/during the menopause(8). Hormones during pregnancy (and because when the ‘bump’ develops your diaphragm, chest and stomach doesn’t move as well) compromises your breathing (9).
  • Posture: a faulty posture in standing or sitting affects how you use your breathing muscles
  • Mechanical constraints: anything that impedes the chest and stomach from moving properly can affect your breathing pattern e.g. tight fitting bra’s and jeans.


Breathing exercises: correct breathing technique & breathing exercises to work your muscles

You should not follow any form of exercise, including the two below, until you’ve been assessed by an appropriate healthcare practitioner. Any exercise that affects your breathing may have side effects if you have, amongst other things, any heart, blood pressure, breathing problems or prone to fainting/dizzy spells. Once you’ve been assessed try these two exercises.

Read through the instructions first before following them. Some people try to perform the exercise whilst reading the instructions and end up holding their breath as they read!

Exercise one: Correct breathing technique

Do not breath heavily when performing this exercise just at your normal rate and depth.

  • Put your left hand on your chest.
  • Put your right hand on your stomach.
  • Take a breath in. Your right hand on your stomach should move and your left hand on your chest should stay still.
  • When you breath out everything should relax so you get a natural breathe out - don’t try to blow or force the air out.

By making your right hand on your stomach move when you breath in and not the hand on your chest ensures you are using your diaphragm.

Exercise two: Breathing exercise to work your muscles

As an exercise to really stretch and work all 93 of the muscles you use for breathing perform this exercise just once or twice sporadically throughout the day.

  • Put your left hand on your chest
  • Put your right hand on your stomach
  • Take a breath in so the right hand on your stomach moves but not the left hand on your chest
  • Before breathing out - breath in a bit more so the left hand on your chest moves to really fill up your lungs
  • Now breath out
  • If you don’t feel dizzy/faint and you want to repeat the exercise once more breath normally for 10 seconds first so you don’t end up hyperventilating


(1) Breathing pattern disorders and functional movement (2014).  Bradley H, Esformes J

(2) Modulation of vagal tone enhances gastroduodenal motility and reduces somatic pain sensitivity (2016). Frøkjaer JB et al

(3) Influence of breathing pattern on the esophagogastric junction pressure and esophageal transit (1995). R. K. Mittal, et al

(4) Abdominothoracic mechanisms of functional abdominal distension and correction by biofeedback. (2015). Barba E et al. 

(5) Respiratory mechanics and ventilatory control in overlap syndrome and obesity hypoventilation (2013). Verbraecken J McNicholas W

(6) Acid–base dysregulation and chemosensory mechanisms in panic disorder: a translational update (2015). L L VollmerJ R Strawn, and R Sah

(7)The Integrative Role of the Sigh in Psychology, Physiology, Pathology, and Neurobiology (2014). Jan-Marino Ramirez

(8) https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/triggers/hormones/. Accessed 4.8.2016

(9) Respiratory physiology of pregnancy (2015). Antonella LoMauro, A and Aliverti A




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