Are you breathing properly?

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Menopause Advisor
Ask Eileen

07 November 2016

Read the full video transcript below

Today's topic

Hello, and welcome to my weekly video blog. And today on A.Vogel Talks Menopause, I’m going to ask a little bit of a silly question. Are you breathing properly? And I’m sure a lot of people will be going, “I have no idea.” Well, to be honest, it’s not actually that much of a silly question. I quite often do a little bit of research. I look through books and magazine and papers to see if I can find some interesting subjects. And I was actually reading about breathing and about what can happen if you don’t breathe properly, and the more I read the more I realised that some of the symptoms of poor breathing could actually be menopause symptoms.

What can happen when you don’t breathe properly

So let’s just have a look at what can happen when you don’t actually breathe properly. Now we know that going through the menopause stresses us. It stresses us in all sorts of different ways. And we also know that when we are stressed, it affects our breathing, and we tend to do what’s called shallow breathing. Now this is quite easy to check. You can just stand in front of the mirror, breathe for 30 seconds or so, and if you see that your shoulders are coming up towards your ears, then you know that you’re shallow breathing, and you’re literally only using the top parts of your lungs.

Now, the problem with shallow breathing is that it can affect all sorts of different things in the body in different ways. To start with, we have accessory breathing muscles, so we have muscles that help to support the lungs and help to support the ribs, and these actually connect the head and the neck to the ribs. And if we’re doing a lot of shallow breathing like this, then these muscles, the shoulder muscles, and the neck muscles can start to get over-stressed. And when they get over-stressed, we get neck pain, and we get shoulder pain. So doesn’t that sound familiar already?

What can also happen in this situation is that the nerves in this area can get over-stimulated. They can get irritated, so you can end up getting headaches. You can end up getting lightheaded. You can end up getting really dizzy, and also, this movement the whole time can interfere with the blood flow to the head resulting in foggy thinking, and it can also interfere with circulation from the head as well.

Now, when we shallow breathe, especially if we do it on and on and on, what happens is that we end up expelling too much carbon dioxide, and this actually leads to our blood becoming too alkaline. And high alkalinity in the blood stream can cause anxiety. So here we are, we’re already stressed, we’re anxious, we’re not breathing properly, and by not breathing properly we’re causing more anxiety. So this one can become a real vicious circle. We also know that alkalinity can make our nerves more sensitive, especially the peripheral nerves. So you might find that you’re getting nerve pain in your fingers and your toes. You might be getting a bit of tingling down the arms.

We also know that our pain perception can change. It can become much more sensitive. So for those of you that are getting things like joint pain, muscle aches and pains, then some of it can actually be intensified by the way that you’re actually breathing. We know that this type of breathing and alkalinity can affect blood flow to the muscles, so it can cause muscle fatigue, muscle aches, muscle pain, muscle stiffness. And if you find that when you’re walking or going to the gym or doing exercise that your muscles get tired much quicker, then again, it could be partly due just to the way that you’re actually breathing.

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Poor breathing also affects your diaphragm

Now, poor breathing also affects the diaphragm, and the diaphragm is a big muscle that sits under the lungs, and as we breathe, the diaphragm moves up and down. And if we breathe properly, the movement of the diaphragm actually massages our digestive system, and this helps with our digestion and helps with our elimination. So if we’re only doing very shallow breathing, then we’re not going to get this action on the digestive system. This can lead to sluggishness. It can lead to bloating. It can lead to wind, and it can lead to constipation.

And also, because of this action of the diaphragm, in this particular area it can create a vacuum, and that actually helps to keep the circulation growing from the feet back up to the heart. So if we’re not getting this proper diaphragm movement, then that can affect the circulation so we can end up getting burning feet, we can end up getting swollen ankles, we can end up getting sore legs. It could actually over time even lead to things like varicose veins. So again, you can see how important the way we breathe is to all sorts of things during the menopause.

What can you do to help your breathing?

So what can you actually do to help your breathing? We’ll do some simple breathing exercises, but the other thing to look at is check when you may not be breathing properly. And I know for me, I travel a lot through Glasgow to Edinburgh for work and for family reasons, and I began to notice that a certain point, about five miles outside the city center of Glasgow, I always ended up getting a hot flush at exactly the same place, and this really fascinated me. I was trying to wrack my brains. How come it was this particular place where I always got the hot flush? Not in the middle of Glasgow, not when I started out, not when I finished. It was just at this particular part of the road. And then I realised what was going on.

For those of you who may know Glasgow, it’s a horrendous road, the motorway through the city center. In some areas it’s sort of six /seven lanes. There’s traffic coming in from all angles. You need to be looking everywhere, have eyes in the back of your head. And I realised when I was driving there I was holding onto the steering wheel for dear life, and I was holding my breath. I was so concentrating on all the traffic that I was forgetting to breathe. Once I was through that part, then I relaxed, but because I had not been breathing properly, maybe for 10, 15 minutes, that was actually enough to trigger my nervous system, which then ended up in hot flushes.

A breathing exercise to help

So if you’re getting specific menopause symptoms at certain times of the day or in certain situations, then just have a look at how you’re breathing, and you may actually get a little bit of a clue. So why not do a little bit of breathing with me. I’ll give you one nice exercise that you can practice that will help. The first thing is you need to be sitting in an arm chair. Now, I’ve only got one armrest, but you would be sitting like this. This is to make…So put a little bit of pressure on your forearms. This is to make sure that your shoulders are not moving in this exercise.

The other thing we do as ladies, we’re terrible for wanting to hold our stomachs in, aren’t we? You know, we do all day, we want to look nice and slim around the waist, so we’re walking around holding the stomach in. That will actually stop you from breathing properly. So for this particular exercise, I’m afraid I’m going to ask you to have to let it all go. We want this whole area to be relaxed. Breathe in slowly for a count of one, two, three, and what you do is you start breathing from here, so this area needs to come out, and then you need to just slowly build up through the rest of the lungs.

So you’re breathing in for one, two, three, don’t hold your breath, and then you breath out slowly for one, two, three. And do it through pursed lips, as if you’re just gonna kiss somebody. And what you do is you start pushing the air out from the bottom of the lungs. So this is the point where you want to pull your stomach in to help to expel the air properly, and that’s all you need to do. So it’s breathing in deeply, one, two, three, breathing out, one, two, three, and eventually try and build up the exhalation up to about the count of five. And try and do that for about ten cycles.

If you feel you start to get dizzy, it’s just an indication that your lungs are actually not used to you breathing properly, so just keep practicing it. This is a lovely one to help if you’re getting anxiety or panic attacks. It’s a lovely one to help to calm you down, and it’s a nice one to try if you’re having problems getting off to sleep. So I hope this has been of help. I certainly find it a really interesting subject, because I really wasn’t aware that, you know, breathing could have such a big effect on menopausal symptoms. And if you do find any hints about why you were getting menopause symptoms because you weren’t breathing properly, I’d love to hear them.

Until next week...

So I’m looking forward to seeing you for another edition of A.Vogel Talks Menopause next week, but in the meantime, breathe well and breathe deep.

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Did you know?

You won’t get the menopause the minute you turn 50! The average starting age is actually between 45 and 55 and it can often depend on a number of factors including hereditary, weight and health, however every single woman will have an individual menopause.

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