Anatomy: Breath

did you know that humans with uteruses breathe differently than those without?!

So this kinda of blew my mind ya’ll…

Your physiology dictates how you breathe and thus how you feel, perform, and even interpret pain! Why? Well, good old hormones of course (also if you don’t have a uterus you should still read this because odds are you love a human with one and this info could be really useful for them!).
Here’s just a few things that surprised me:

 • Women with chronic pelvic pain frequently breathe into the upper chest > chronic chest breathing leads to the fight or flight response staying switched on > chronic state of stress/unable to switch into rest & digest > worsening pain

• Breathing pattern disorders are almost twice as common in women

• Asthma is more common in women and symptoms fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle• Women are 2-3 times more likely to develop panic disorder than men

• Studies have linked low progesterone to feelings of anxiety
So what’s going on?

Well, for those of us that have a menstrual cycle, the fluctuation in hormones can change how we breathe which can change our mood, energy, focus, and thus hinder our performance both physically and mentally.

Hyperventilation occurs at certain points in the menstrual cycle, which may produce cyclic exacerbations of anxiety. During the luteal phase (time between ovulation and start of menstruation) progesterone is produced, peaks and then drops. Breathing often becomes faster and more shallow (in the chest), which can further exacerbate the stress response.

Additionally, during this phase CO2 levels can drop by 25%. Remember CO2 is not just a waste product, it is a crucial player in maintaining homeostasis in our bodies! When CO2 levels are low it causes a constriction of the smooth smooth muscle in the walls of the airways and blood vessels. This keeps our breathing shallow (stressed), reduces blood flow to working muscles and to the brain! So we can feel foggy and anxious, are more prone to headaches, and feel pain more acutely as our pain threshold is lowered here as well. Good stuff huh?
It’s not all bad news!

Use the cycle to your advantage!

Menstruation
– Estrogen and progesterone levels are low = good time to rest (gentle yoga)
The uterus is comprised of smooth muscle, so a drop in CO2 can worsen menstrual cramp pain (to counteract this practice slow breathing and slow the exhale down)

Follicular phase (time between first day of period and ovulation ~ 14 days)
– Oestrogen rises 
– Good time to train and practice breathwork/breath holds
– Ease into stronger movement practices 

Ovulation
– Oestrogen levels peak just before and then drop shortly after  
– Good time for HIT, strengthen training, breath holds
– Power yoga time BABY! Get those Handstands! 

Luteal phase (time between ovulation and start of menstruation) 
– Phase most associated with hyperventilation 
– You may feel tired/sluggish
– Light movement, light breathing 
– CO2 levels can drop by around 25%
– Pain perception is heightened by low CO2 & drop in CO2 causes smooth muscles to contract
Did you miss the breath workshop last weekend? No worries! I’ve got an online version ready to go that you can watch whenever, wherever!

So get cozy and learn how to optimise your breath here:

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