Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Breathe Diaphragmatically While Speaking


I have been practicing diaphragmatic breathing for three years now but I just recently realized that as soon as I begin speaking to someone I completely stop breathing diaphragmatically. It became natural for me to breathe deeply on long intervals when I am alone. But as soon as someone started talking to me, I would breathe very shallowly. Because of this I would try to take breaks from conversation to try to regain my composure. At some point I had to force myself to continue to breathe deeply and diaphragmatically in social situations. It was very difficult at first because I was afraid that others would think I looked too calm.

Most people have a tendency to breathe shallowly when they are around others. A part of us is afraid that breathing calmly around others is the ultimate insult. We are almost afraid that the other person will become angry if they see us breathing too deeply. We breathe the most shallowly around people that we respect or fear. This is partly because when we breathe deeply, our emotional reactivity decreases, and our facial response time is delayed. Basically our faces become calmer and appear less attentive. Notice that when you breathe on long intervals during a conversation, your face goes blank and nonexpressive. We need to get over this fear that someone will see us and think that we look too calm. The best way to train this is to try to retain diaphragmatic breath during social encounters. It becomes more and more natural with practice.

Apart from breathing diaphragmatically in the presence of other people, it is also important to become comfortable breathing diaphragmatically while speaking. This is even harder because you have to focus on what you want to say and also on monitoring your breath. The best way I have come up with to train this is to read out loud while breathing diaphragmatically. You will notice that it is uncomfortable at first because we all normally speak within a very narrow tidal range. Speaking is exhalation. The trick to calming down your speech is to prolong the speaking time and ensure that it is not punctuated by anxious gasps. I think that the activity below is a fantastic breathing retraining exercise and it is attractive because it obviates the need for a breathing metronome.

Activity Diaphragmatic Speaking: Sit down with a good book and begin reading out loud. As you do so take a huge breath in and read aloud until you have no breath left to exhale. Do this repeatedly for five minutes or as long as you would like. To do this you have to stop reading for several seconds during each inhalation – do so patiently. You should find that you inhale for somewhere between 5 and 10 seconds and that you speak/exhale for between 6 and 12 seconds. Try to keep your voice at the same volume even when you have almost reached the end of your exhalation. It helps to speak in a calm, friendly voice. If you speak loudly and deeply while doing this activity your voice will become louder and deeper with time.

This method also works very well with singing. You can employ the tactic above when singing along to a song. The only problem is that as you inhale deeply you will be unable to sing several words in the song. Embrace this because deep inhalations permit deep exhalations and will improve your singing voice.

Activity Diaphragmatic Singing: Sing along to a song without breathing shallowly. Take a slow, deep inhalation until you cannot breathe in any more. Then sing until you have no more air left to exhale. Stop singing and inhale completely even if the vocalist in the song you are listening to continues to sing. Once you have taken a full breath in sing until you have no more air left to exhale. Repeat for five minutes, or as long as you would like.   

Diaphragmatic Breathing During Exercise


I believe that breathing diaphragmatically during exercise, is a great breathing retraining activity that strengthens cardiac muscle and the muscles of respiration. Try taking a short jog focusing on the sensations you feel when alternating between inhalations and exhalations. You are likely alternating far too quickly. Try blowing nearly all the way out, and breathing nearly all the way in with each breath. This creates an intense even uncomfortable feeling, and ironically many people breathe shallowly while exercising because they are concerned that they will not get enough air if they were to breathe deeply. As long as you are breathing heavily, you are getting plenty of oxygen. I think that it is especially helpful to breathe diaphragmatically when the heartrate is elevated because it is the sensation of elevated heart rate that makes you want to alternate prematurely between inhalation and exhalation. Your heartbeat begins to hurt, sending you signals to breathe shallowly. Ignore the panic signals from your heart, and ensure that you breathe all the way in and out near full capacity. To do this you have to fight to resist the reflexes in your chest that prematurely interrupt a full exhalation.
Diaphragmatic breathing during exercise produces the same discomfort that diaphragmatic breathing at rest produces, just highly amplified. As long as you stay calm and keep breathing diaphragmatically you will habituate to this discomfort and learn to breathe more deeply and evenly.  I believe that when you feel your heart beating hard in your chest and you keep blowing out, that is when you are doing the most good, you are restructuring your unhealthy breathing patterns and demolishing the trauma that underlies them. Endurance athletes usually have the lowest resting heart rates, I believe this is because they naturally learn to breathe diaphragmatically during exercise. This may be because they naturally learn to stop breathing thoracically during exercise.


Breathing Exercise: Diaphragmatic Jogging

Take a light, 5-minute jog, extending your inhalations and exhalations. Focus on the effort involved and the accompanying sensations. Instead of panting at a rate of multiple inhalations per second, try to breathe in for 1 to 3 seconds and breathe out for 2 to 4 seconds. After you get the feel of this, use this technique for all aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Duration: 5-10 minutes. Proficiency: 2-4 sessions a week for six weeks. Maintenance: 2 times per month. Five stars.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Myofascial Release for the Nasopharynx, and Soft Palate


The Tension Behind Your Face

You have a large muscular knot behind your face. This knot becomes tighter every time you feel stressed. It also becomes tighter when you are in social situations. It makes you wince and grimace and it gets worse every day because it is never touched, massaged or released. Worse yet, the tension accumulated from years of misuse makes the muscles ache, sending pain and panic signals to your brain. Ischemic compression, soft tissue mobilization and myofascial release are very popular remedies now. Here I am advocating that you perform this specifically for your nasopharynx. It is painful at first but it is easier every time and it only takes a few weeks to completely get rid of the pain. Afterwards your face feels amazing, you feel much calmer and have much more social composure.  Here, I will explain how to provide myofascial release for the tonsils, the uvula, the palatopharyngeal sphincter, and the nasopharynx.


 

How to Get the Knot Out

I recommend that you provide compression and self-massage to your nasopharynx. You do this by donning a plastic glove, putting your thumb into your mouth and up into your nasopharyngeal opening in the back of your throat. To find this opening you want to feel the roof of your mouth, traveling away from the teeth and towards the area where the hard roof of the mouth (hard palate) turns soft (soft palate). An inch posterior to this border is the uvula, the hanging fleshy structure and just behind the uvula is the opening of the nasopharynx. The nasopharynx is an invagination that you want to explore and massage using either your left or right thumb. You insert the finger into the mouth, with the fist pointed to the sky, as if you were sucking on your thumb. If you have never done this before the opening will feel tight and painful, and pressing against it will initiate a gag reflex. The best way to get through this is to always perform the soft tissue release while breathing diaphragmatically, preferably to a breath metronome. The discomfort that you feel when stimulating this area is proportionate to the pain signals that this area sends you every day, throughout the day. This was the single tightest and most painful muscle in my body, and it was also the easiest and quickest to rehabilitate. Suck it up, and massage it, you will be glad that you did.

With your thumb inside your nasopharynx you can place strong pressure on many muscles and soft tissues throughout the nasopharynx, and nasal cavity. You want to press against each of the walls and folds of the nasopharynx and even up into the nasopharyngeal ceiling. When you start out, simply insert the thumb past the first knuckle and keep it still. It will be uncomfortable and it will feel sore as if you have an infection. It feels like an itchy, scratchy sore throat. Next try to swallow a few times and feel the nasopharyngeal sphincter tighten and loosen around your thumb. The first few times this is very uncomfortable but it should be painless within a week. Next you want to gently press your thumb into different areas, massaging the soft tissues, stimulating the nerves, reducing tension in the accompanying muscles and brining needed blood to the area. I recommend doing this for five minutes a day, five days a week. Within the first week you will notice that it is less painful, that your face feels calmer all the time, that you breathe better, that mucus clearance is easier, and that your face actually looks more aesthetically pleasing.

The main muscle that you want to rehabilitate is the nasopharyngeal sphincter. The padded side of your thumb (without the finger nail) will come into contact with this anterior muscle. You want to grab it firmly and flex it rhythmically in order to exercise it and gain conscious access to it. Doing this helps you know how to use it and how to relax it. Do this at the most inferior portion (near the opening of the nasopharynx) and the most superior portion (a lip of muscle near the roof of the nasopharynx). For me the superior portion was the most painful and it took a week to remove all of the pain from it.

Why This is Helpful

While reading about orofacial pain disorders I began to think about the tension behind my own nose and eyes. I figured that a strong form of stimulation could increase the circulation to my nasal tissues, alleviate the trauma that they held, and help reduce the tone in my facial musculature. My nose was broken 15 years prior (at age 17) and was numb and painful at times. I really felt like my nasopharynx was a tense rock in the middle of my head, and I hoped that myofacial release could help me better incorporate it into a calm, healthy facial posture.

I am convinced that soft tissues in this area can become traumatized due to stress, cold, physical injury, sickness, or undue tension and then remain excessively tonic (tense) so that: 1) circulation decreases and inflammation increases, 2) the muscles atrophy and undergo “adaptive muscle shortening,” 3) the neurons in the area relay pain messages to the brain, and 4) this causes the muscles to become excessively tense further exacerbating the psychological stress. I am also convinced that reduced circulation diminishes the immunological response rendering these tissues more susceptible to upper respiratory tract infection. I believe that firm pressure, applied to these soft tissues (that are rarely, if ever, stimulated), reverses these four degenerative processes.

The stimulation and physical compression of the tissues helps to reduce past trauma, and in my opinion is much like massaging a sprained ankle. Massage and isometric stretching is really the only way to return the ankle to its premorbid state. Of course it is painful to massage, but compressing the muscles is the best way to reduce their tone. The fact that the muscles and soft tissues deep in our nasal cavity are never stimulated allows them to “remember” past trauma. They become a “somatic anchor” deep within the face for pain. Each time you do this the treatment becomes less painful. One of the reasons we hold tension here is because we are afraid to breathe through our nose and mouth at the same time in front of other people. We are afraid that we will look “too” calm to others. Once the area is no longer painful, this look becomes authentic and breathing using both the nose and mouth simultaneously becomes preferable.


I believe that this technique has the potential to help anyone, but may produce the best results for people that focus concertedly on remaining calm before, during and afterwards. Influencing how your brain interprets intense forms of stimulation is incredibly important to how your body copes with them. The way that you breathe surrounding an injury helps the body to appraise the injury and determine how best to deal with it. I recommend making calm a priority after the procedure and attempting to breathe diaphragmatically, employing deep breathing exercises. I would recommend doing this at home, before sleep or a rest. I do it a few times a week and it is the last thing I do before I go to bed.

After applying pressure to these areas you become aware of muscles and tissues behind your face that you never noticed before. The first time I laid down for several hours with my eyes closed in order to focus on the accompanying sensations. You feel these muscles tighten and release after the procedure. While this happened I tried my best to memorize what it felt like for these areas to release and I tried to keep them relaxed. Simply turning your attention to these sensations builds somatotopic and musculotopic maps in the cortex which help you sense and control these areas. I believe that after using the technique people want to build these cortical maps so that they can notice when these areas become tight later. As I did this I used other facial muscles, flaring and constricting my nostrils, in an attempt to link these new cortical maps to existing ones. It would be interesting to follow the efferent nerve pathways from these areas up into the brain. Pain signals originating in the nasal cavity are probably sent to subcortical threat/stress areas such as the amygdala, and end up in cortical ones such as the anterior cingulate cortex, and the insula.

After the procedure I went on a long walk and I noticed that my face felt surprisingly calm. As I passed people on the street I was worried that perhaps I would appear “too” calm. I realized that I should embrace the calmness and try to take full advantage of my current state and really focus on allowing my face to remain placid. I focused on breathing deeply and evenly, with eyes wide while looking upwards. I figured that if I practiced this over the course of a few days it would look natural. It really did. I no longer have a perpetual pained and fearful expression on my face and I no longer look like someone who had their nose broken violently. It does have a cosmetic or aesthetic component and definitely helped me to develop a more relaxed countenance.

Try probing your nose with q-tips. Again, at first this was very uncomfortable but became much less painful with time. I didn’t press very far but would make circles with the q-tips just past my nostrils while breathing deeply. Afterwards you want to think about how to build this relaxed nasopharyngeal posture into your normal day-to-day facial posture.