Medical textbooks suggest that up to 80-90% of breathing at rest should be done using the diaphragm (or belly - stomach). This is possible when people have normal breathing parameters. However, if you observe other people's breathing, you will notice that most people breathe at rest using upper chest. Why? Modern ordinary people breathe about 2 times more than the physiological norm (see Hyperventilation: Present in Over 90% of Normal People with 24 medical publications). Overbreathing reduces carbon dioxide concentration in all muscles, including the diaphragm. Since CO2 is a relaxant of muscles of the human body, hyperventilation creates a state of spasm in the diaphragm. Moreover, deep breathing also predisposes us to slouching due to tension around the shoulders, neck, and other muscles in the upper part of the human body. Both effects make the diaphragm almost immobile. What are the differences and problems with chest breathing?
Chest breathing vs. Diaphragmatic breathing in relation to blood oxygenation
During chest breathing (or costal breathing), lower layers of the lungs get much less, if any, fresh air (less oxygen supply) leading to reduced oxygenation of arterial blood in the lungs due to so called "ventilation-perfusion" mismatch. Normal breathing is diaphragmatic allowing homogeneous inflation of both lungs with fresh air, similar to what happens in the cylinder of a car due to the movement of the piston. Hence, during diaphragmatic breathing all alveoli are homogeneously stretched vertically and get fresh air supply with higher O2 concentration for superior arterial blood oxygenation, while costal breathing creates problems with blood oxygenation. This leads to reduced cell oxygenation: the driving force of all chronic diseases.
Chest breathing leads to lymphatic stagnation under the diaphragm
The lymph system, unlike the cardiovascular system with the heart, has no pump. Lymph nodes are located in the places of the human body that get naturally compressed (squeezing) due to movements of, for example, body parts, as in cases of lymph nodes located around the neck, above arm pits and groin area. However, the lymph nodes from stomach, kidneys, liver, pancreas, spleen, large and small colons, and other vital organs are located just under the diaphragm. This is because the nature expects us to use the diaphragm in order to remove waste products from these vital organs all the time - literally with each breath 24/7. Hence, another problems of chest breathing relates to stagnation in the lymph system and accumulation of waste products in vital organs located under the diaphragm.
Find your type of breathing
Do you breathe using the diaphragm or chest at rest? Check yourself.
Exercise. Put one of your arms on your belly (stomach) or navel and another one higher, on your upper chest (see the picture on the left). Relax completely so that your breathing dynamic has little changes. (We want to know more about your usual unconscious breathing.) Listen to your breathing for about 20-30 seconds using both arms. Take 2-3 very slow and deep breaths to feel your breathing dynamics in more detail.
Now we know more about your usual breathing pattern. In order to be certain, you can ask other people to observe how you breathe when you are not aware about your breath (e.g., during sleep, while reading, studying, etc.).
Check your ability to have diaphragmatic breathing
3 simple exercises. Try to perform the following exercises using your abdominal muscles.
1. Breathe for 1-2 minutes using your belly only so that your rib cage and upper arm do not move.
2. Take a very slow and deep inhalation using your stomach with as much air as possible, while keeping your chest relaxed.
3. Make a slow complete exhalation using your diaphragm so that your belly is reduced in size and moves deeply in, towards your spine?
Chest breathing versus diaphragmatic breathing and
body oxygen level (CP)
Body oxygen level (the DIY CP - Control Pause test) is a good predictor of breathing mechanics in people. Since most ordinary healthy people have about 20-25 seconds of oxygen in the body, their breathing is about twice bigger than the medical norm and most of them are chest breathers.
People, who have sufficient oxygenation of the body, naturally breathe using their diaphragm all the time, as it was over 100 years ago for most people. Oxygenation of ordinary people was equal to about 40-60 seconds.
In sick people, due to chronic hyperventilation (see Table with over 30 western medical research studies from web page Hyperventilation Syndrome), body oxygenation is usually less than 20 seconds . Hence, they experience above-discussed problems due to costal breathing 24/7 and inability or difficulties with diaphragmatic breathing at rest.
How Diaphragmatic vs. Chest Breathing relates to Body Oxygen Content