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To Chest Breathe or to Belly Breathe?

To Chest Breathe or to Belly Breathe?

There is a common misconception that to belly breathe is “good” and to chest breathe is “bad”

In fact, there is no need for you to choose between the two.  Free and relaxed breathing combines expansion of both your chest and belly in a balanced way.


Chest movement with breathing

Rib Cage (120 articulations) Diaphragm and Abdomen Your rib cage has altogether ~120 articulations by the time you count all the joints within the spine, between spine and ribs, ribs and cartilages, carilages and breastbone.  That’s A LOT of moving parts.  So it makes sense that when you breathe your chest moves

Belly movement with breathing

When you breathe in, your diaphragm moves downwards to expand your lungs, and at the same time pushes your abdominal contents downwards.  So it makes sense that your abdomen also expands as you breathe.

So what is the mix-up with chest vs belly breathing?

If you have an inefficient chest-only breath, then there is an exaggeration of your upper chest lifting upwards when you inhale.  This creates an excess of tension up into your neck, shoulders and upper back.  At the same time, you might have a tendency to hold tension in your belly or solar plexus.

If you have an inefficient belly-only breath, then your belly protrudes, your internal organs are unsupported, and your abdominals don’t tend to support you so well.

In both scenarios yoru lungs don’t expand as they otherwise might.


How to breathe a balanced breath

What is better is to find a way that all of those 120 rib cage joints move togetehr as you breathe.  A great way to access this is by bringing awareness to your breastbone.

Your breastbone has three parts to it and two horizontal  joins.  The upper join is two and a half finger widths below your sternal notch – the rounded nook at the very top edge of your breastbone. It is called the “manubriosternal joint”.

Importantly, this manubriosternal joint is at the centre of expansion of your chest.  This has a sense that your breastbone lengthens and that the front of your chest spreads open.  This allows your upper chest to subtly move up AND ALSO allows your lower ribs to expand AND ALSO allows your to belly expand while keeping background tone.

At the same time, because your ribs connect all the way around from your breastbone at the front to your spine at the back, accessing this spreading movement at the front of your chest naturally brings more freedom around the back in your spine and ribs too.

Simple steps to a balanced breath

To begin, allow your awareness to settle into your body in a general sense, and also into your breath in a general sense.  Put aside any urge to choose what your breath “should” be like.  It will tend to reorganise itself beautifullly in response to your attention, just watch.

Next, drift your awarenss to your breastbone.  Allow the sense that it is soft, relaxed, expansive and able to spread. Notice how the whole front of your chest wall is now able to relax.

Then, let your breath trickle in and in and in and your, without adding any particular effort with your chest, neck or shoulders.

Notice that your entire torso expands at the same time in all directions – back and front, to both sides, and (much more sublty) top to bottom.

Remember, air expands your lungs, while breath expands your whole torso.  Sublty, too, your breath can expand your whole body.


Also stretch to open your chest and shoulders

It may be that the front of your chest wall, pecs and shoulders are stiff.  If this is the case then to stretch them out will help you access your breath more easily. Be kind to your shoulders and avoid any pinching or pain in the joints.

Use any stretches or  yoga postures you already know that open your chest and shoulders.  Here are three simple ideas:

1. “Hanging” using a doorframe:

With your fingertips get a pruchase over the top edge of a door frame and let yourself hang downwards.  Let your knees bend softly, keeping most of the weight in your feet, and enough in your fingertips to get a nice stretch.  Let your torso soften downards out of your arms and armpits each time your exhale.

2. Gentle backbend using the back of a chair

Sitting on a chair, clasp your hands lightly on the top/back of your head.  Lean back over the backrest of the chair, finding a nice stretch for the tight area between your shoulder blades.

3. “Circle of Joy” yoga flow

Watch Ten Toes Yoga short video here (1:43)

You can also do this yoga flow kneeling, sitting on a chair, or standing.  If you are standing, instead of putting your hands on the floor in the first round, put your hands on your hips or palms on the back of your pelvic bones.


Now you can practice a balanced breath …

… that integrates chest and belly expansion by allowing your breastbone and the front of your chest so feel soft and expansive.  Enjoy!

Feel free to let me know how you go with this, or to be in touch if you would like to explore this further with me one on one.

Contact Bronwen

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So do you work with Muscles and Joints?

So do you work with Muscles and Joints?

Treating muscles and joints in a holistic way, a conversation…

Recetly someone asked me “So do you work with muscles and joints?” My answer was “yes/and, it depends.”

This person had come to see me about their shoulder.  However I had been talking about the connections between their internal organs (“contents”) and the interior of their torso (“container”).

I had been talking about how a well functioning “container” relied on normal freedom of movement of its “contents”. They thought perhaps I was not interested in muscles and joints much at all.


If we take a step back and consider our muscles and joints for a moment …

Container & contents - skeleton with internal organsAnatomy 101 tells us that the musculoskeletal system has two main jobs. Firstly, to move us about in the world, and secondly to protect our internal organs.

The flip side of this is that our muscles and joint – our posture and movement – organise themselves to minimise mechanical strain on our internal organs.

This helps with staying alive, digesting food, and so on.  Voila! Our Very Smart Body has its priorities sorted.

However, we tend to be MUCH more aware of our muscles and joints than of our internal orgnas. So, naturally enough, people seek help for the problem that they can feel most clearly.  This might be back pain, neck pain. headaches, tennis elbow, shoulder injury, ankle sprain and so on.


What does this mean for an holistic approach to treatement?

Detecting the complete story the body tellsTo help someone feel more comfortable, to have less pain, or to recover better, I am therefore interested in their musculoskeletal problem in context of their whole body.  What is the rest of the story that the muscle/joint/injury is telling me?

Knowing that all parts are ultimately enmeshed in connective tissue (fascia), I feel for the overall pattern of tension, and more importantly, which part of it is driving the show. If I can detect the most important tensions, then this suggests where to treat for most benefit.


Treating muscles and joints in context

More often than not, the place to start treating tends to be either in the nervous system, the blood and lymph flow, or with the freedom of movment of an internal organ.

Muscles and joints tend to be “where the buck stops”. They are important, but what is more important is their relationship to nerves, vessels and organs.

For example, underlying someone’s shoulder pain might be some adhesions from gall bladder or appendix surgery in the distant past. Or another’s slow recovery from an ankle sprain might be influenced by an inguinal hernia repair earlier in life. And someone else’s “tennis elbow” pain may be interacting with stiffness in their diaphragm and heart from an old whiplash injury and the pressure of the seatbelt against their chest.


In conclusion

Next time you have an ache, a pain, or an injury that bothers you for longer than it should, be kind and “don’t shoot the messenger”. Cconsider getting in touch to find out if it is something I might be able to help you with.

Contact Bronwen

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Autonomic Nervous System Coherence

Autonomic Nervous System Coherence

Use this simple Nervous System Reset to feel grounded and spacious

Autonomic Nervous System Basics

Your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), that is automatic nervous sytem is co-ordinated by your brain to regulate the unconscious workings of your internal organs.  Think heart, lungs, digestion, kidneys, reproduction, immunity, detoxification, wound healing and so on.  

Your ANS has three main parts:

  • Sympathetic Nervous system (SNS) — Activity, Fight and Flight.  Nerves leave your central nervous system (CNS) in the area of your Cervical and Thoracic Spine
  • Parasympathetic Nervous SystemRest, Freeze & Dissociate.  Nerves leave your CNS from the base of your skull (Vagus nerve) and Sacrum, and
  • Enteric Nervous System (ENS) is in the lining of your digestive tract.  It interacts with your SNS and PSNS, and can also do many things independently

Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Nervous System Functions

    Your Autonomic Nervous System and how you feel

    The SNS and PSNS function on a spectrum.  We feel “balanced” and at the same time “grounded”, and “spacious”, and “at ease” in our bodies when these two phases are coherent, or in sync.  There is a dynamic state of flux between Action and Rest.  As needed, we shift into Fight/Flight or Freeze/Dissociate AND ALSO return to a dynamic balanced phase – without getting stuck in one extreme or the other.  

    Something simple you can do for your Autonomic Nervous System

    In this 15 minute video, I talk through a series of hand placements that help to resynchronise, or “reset” your ANS.  

    The Full Sequence relates first your Reticular Activating System (RAS) to your Limbic System.  Your Limbic system is to do with memory, learning and emotion, and RAS  gear shifting smoothly between sleep, awake, alert and vigilant states.  (RAS preamble 0:34/practice 1:54 | Limbic System 6:14)

    The Basic Sequence follows, relating right and left sides of your brain, including limbic areas, and in turn ANS centres through your body.  (preamble 11:06/practice 11:45)

    If your nervous system is in a coherent state, it tends to express and discharge its activity in sequence — right brain to left brain, then in turn to heart, solar plexus, belly and pelvis.  This nervous system reset helps you to resynchronise that pattern.

    Download PDF

    Watch Video

    Nervous System Reset Video

    How this can help you to feel better

    If you have the sense of being “up”, “in your head”, “uptight”, or “stressed out”, then this can help you to feel “calm”, “spacious” and “grounded”.

    If you have the sense of being “flat”, “down”, “low energy” or just can’t get going, then this can help you to feel “energised”, “alert” and “clear”. 

    Practice Tips

    • Get to know the Basic Sequence.  Include with the RAS and Limbic steps as an optional extra.  
    • Once you are familiar with the sequence, either Basic or Full, you can choose pairs of hand placements “one the go” as you wish.
    • You can stand, sit or lie down to do this.  It is rather relaxing done lying down.
    • Place your hands softly, no need to push. The simple presence of your hands helps bring your nervous system’s awareness to itself and it responds to the attention.
    • Leave your hands in place until you feel a “shift” – a softening in your breath or body, a sigh, an energising, or a sense of spaciousness.
    • You can step through this briefly, moving from one hand placement to the next at the first “shift” you sense, or stay with it for longer, turning it into a longer more luxurious meditation.

    Download PDF

    Watch Video

    Nervous System Reset Video


    Feel free to let me know how you go with it, or be in touch to make a booking if you would like to explore this concept further with me

    Lymphatic Drainage Therapy

    Lymphatic Drainage Therapy

    Lymphatic Drainage Therapy (LDT) is a gentle hands on treatment that maps your lymph flow and encourages improvements where there is congestion.


    Varous styles of lymphatic drainage massage have been developed since the mid 1800’s, starting with osteopath A.T. Still.  Bruno Chikly, MD and osteopath (France), teaches Lymphatic Drainage Therapy (LDT) practitioners to map exactly the “specific rhythm, pressure, quality and direction of the lymph flow”.  There is an emphasis on deep lymph pathways first, and then superficial.  The intent is to add an extra level of precision, and to work with rather than on the body to support recalibration of lymph pathways.


    How does my Lymphatic System keep me healthy?

    1.  Lymph removes wastes from around your cells

    Lymphatic vessels are the third part of  your circulatory system, next to arteries and veins.  Like blood vessels, they transport fluid – though only in one direction, from your cells back to your heart.

    The blood: a circuit

    • Large vessels leave the heart (“arteries”) and divide into smaller and smaller vessels until they are so tiny that the vessel wall is only one cell thick (“capillaries”).
    • Nutrients and oxygen can move easily out into extracellular fluid and into cells where are taken up and used.  
    • Capillaries converge into larger and larger blood vessels (“veins”) to return blood to the heart. 
    • Your heart as a pump/vortex keeps blood moving & maintains blood pressure.  

    Lymph:  a one way trip

    Wastes from cell metabolism are taken up by the one way Lymph Vessel system.  Think of it like a micropscopic vacuum cleaner system for your cells.

    Lymph fluid is very much like blood, less the red blood cells.  Additionally, byproducts of cell metabolism, bacteria, viruses, and junk are taken up by the lymph vessels.

    Like blood vessesls, lymph vessels also merge into larger and larger vessels and return towards the heart.  They make a T-junction with major blood vessels where they lie just behind the inner ⅓ of your collar bones, just before they enter the heart.  

    2. Lymph is a major player in your immune system

    Aside from having almost no RBC, another important difference between blood and lymph is that lymph contains many more lymphocytes than blood. 

    Lymphocytes are the white blood cells (WBC) that give you “acquired immunity”.  They either destroy pathogens (disease causing organisms — bacteria, viruses etc) directly, or tag them for destruction by other immune cells.

    Lymph nodes also contain many lymphocytes and other immune cells. Your body has between 400 and 700 lymph nodes, distributed in line at strategic places along your lymph vessels. 

    As lymph travels through these nodes, lymphocytes and other immune cells do their thing – tagging, destroying and dismantling “invading pathogens”.  This way, by the time lymph re-mixes  with your blood, pathogens are reduced or eliminated.

    There are large collections of lymph nodes around your neck and throat, deep in your chest and abdomen, and in your armpits and groin.

    What keeps my lymph moving?

    It is a big fat juicy myth that your lymphatic system has no propulsion system of its own, and that it relies entirely on your muscle activity to squeeze it along.

    Lymph flow does benefit from your movement, but the compression action of your muscles are only part of what keeps your lymph flowing. 

    • Like veins, medium and larger vessels have valves to prevent reverse lymph flow. 
    • Lymph vessels also have a muscular layer.  As lymph fills an individual segment between valves, the muscular wall contracts — squeezing that lymph towards your heart.  This muscular pump is called a “lymphangion” or “lymph heart”.  The combined effect of all the lymphangions is a co-ordinated and rhythmic flow of lymph towards your heart.
    • Activity and exercise stimulates lymphangion activity generally
    • Lymphatic Drainage Therapy targets specific areas where your lymphatic system is not flowing well.

    How can I look after my Lymphatic System?

    In a general sense, all of the usual ways would keep yourself physically well and healthy will benefit your Lymphatic System:

    • Be Active — activity stimulates blood and lymph flow, directly and indirectly.  
    • Eat Well — lean towards fresh, local, seasonal, organic/spray free.  
    • Be Well Hydrated — in general, 1L water per 30kg body weight is ideal.
    • Be Well Rested — sleep is a time for regeneration.

    To get more specific

    • Seek out a Lymphatic Drainage Therapy practitioner
    • Learn some self lymphatic drainage techniques.  Here is my first self lymphatic drainage handout for General Lymphatic System activation.  I’ll update the blog links as Deep and Superfical LD PDF’s are added.  Sign up for the newsletter if you’d like to be notified.

    How can Lymphatic Drainage Therapy help me?

    In practice, I use LDT as one part of a holistic approach to treatment.  I use it where I can feel that lymphatic flow is reduced or altered. 

    Circumstances where I find myself using LDT in treatment include helping people who have old injuries, chronic stiffness, scars (past surgery, skin and muscle grafts or injury), past inflammation, poor posture or posture and movement compensations. 

    Potential uses and benefits are broad, which makes sense when you consider that the lymphatic system serves basiclaly the entire body.  If you have any questions about how LDT might benefit you, be in touch.  


    (1) SW Chikly pp4-12



    Your collar bone as key

    Your collar bone as key

    Your collar bone, like any other part of your body, should move well. If it doesn’t, it’s function will be affected either locally or further away.

    That the inner end of your collar bone (“clavicle”) attaches to upper end of your breastbone.  This is the only place your arm attaches to your torso. If your collar bone does not move well it can affect how any part of your shoulder or arm works.

    Notice that there is a gap between the collar bone and the first rib. This gap allows blood vessels, lymph vessels and nerves to travel through.  If this lacks space then any of these structures can be compressed . That compression will lead you to move in a way to avoid irritating them. As a consequence, you can cause strain to your neck, shoulder, elbow wrist or hand.

    Interesting patterns I’ve been seeing in the clinic

    At the right collar bone, lymph flow is returning towards the heart from the upper liver and right lung, head, neck and arm. So here there can be an interplay between lymph congestion in those places and the right neck, shoulder or arm.

    Similarly at the left collar bone, lymph flow is returning towards the heart from the left head-neck-arm-lung-abdomen-both legs, and so here there can be an interplay between lymph congestion in those places and the left neck, shoulder or arm.

    For a Contented Clavicle

    • You should be able to float your shoulders upwards, forwards, backwards, and downwards.

    Some simple stretches

    Start all these stretches by interlacing your fingers.

    • Reach forward, pressing your palms way from you.
    • Reach upwards, pressing your palms away from you.
    • Interlace your fingers behind you, or grasp the back of one hand with the other behind your back.
      First, roll your shoulders up and open.
      Then,  straighten your arms +/- lift your hands off your back, keeping your shoulders rolled open.

    Basic Posture tip

    First, allow your upper body to be light and to float above your hips/lower body.
    Then float your shoulders up and open.

    Enjoy the stretches.