Am I Breathing Wrong?

My friend asked me last night as we were waiting in line for tacos at Porque No to correct her body issues and if I had noticed anything horribly wrong about her body that I havn’t been telling her. Surely many people assume that as a PT after spending time with someone I should be able to find something “wrong” with someone at least in the way they hold their body. Even if I did, should I say something about it?


In the past I would learn something really exciting from a body work guru or physio and want to share it with everyone going around telling everyone to unlock their knees, scoop their pelvis, tuck their chin, breathe with the diaphragm going on up the chair to every joint correcting everyone. By the time I would be done they looked like a perfect statue except the trembling and grimacing on their face trying to keep their body that way.


As a young clinician, enthusiasm to help can sometimes harm if we forget the fact that the body changes slowly and that each person has their own unique circumstances. This podcast with Greg Lehman and Jack Chews is one that brings a nice counterbalance to what for me coming at people with a right and wrong mentality and armed with systems of biomechanics based on normative values and my own understanding of Dr. Kelly Starrett’s system, I would size people up and help them become aware of how their body parts fell outside of these norms.


I think there can be well-meaning in pointing out how people can do better. There is also a lot of harm in pointing out people’s flaws or assuming that certain ways people move or posture are right or wrong.


Being honest with people is important but just to assume the information you have is absolutely correct, in order to effect change in someone it is counterproductive to teach in a way that increases anxiety by drawing negative attention and judgement to a person’s body scheme or habits. Do you change your behavior long term if you feel that you have been force fed the “right” way or if you take the time to find your own truth and incorporate it in your life in your own way, does this change the way you behave?


As a person and a PT I feel a lot more positive about what I learn about my body and how I teach people when I guide others from a position of helping people find their own answer.


When it comes to breathing:


First notice your body as it is-- appreciate it


  1. Start by noticing your exhale; what body parts move, what feels tight

  2. What part initiates your inhale.

  3. Take inventory of your joints in relation to each other


Now try this-- Try adding these things

  1. Bend your knees

  2. Inititate the breath from the belly

  3. breathe Down


There are so many effective cues for breathing “properly”, I do not even like that term because it makes me come off as above the person I am trying to help and make the person feel bad about not being able to do something instinctual correctly.


If you are reading this as a person who wants to work on your breath, start by being positive about what you are doing in terms of breathing, you are alive, you have gotten this far doing it your own way, even if you are a “chest breather” you are still using your diaphragm, its just not given the chance to be the primary driver because it may be acting as a stabilizer because of your posture stress levels, the way you are comfortable stabilizing.


Most courses I have been to and what I find in my own practice is to start on your back with your knees bent

    Try these:

    Breathe down

    initiate the breath in the pelvis

    try to make the belly rise before the chest


Then incorporate these cues while you are walking, or in yoga poses while you hold the pose or syncing the breath with the movement: its simplistic not a bad start to inhale while you extend or reach, and exhale while you flex in or return to the starting position.


If you want to focus on changing your breathing I think trying it in these fundamental or what I call pejoratively “baby” exercises. These are problematic because they are so much slower and more minute and esoteric than daily life tasks so yes a lot of work needs to be done to incorporate these into how you actually live. But this comes first. It is not to say you have to stop doing your weight lifting of cycling or lifting your kids. As you learn these baby breathing exercises try to incorporate them into your major movements.


Breathing as a major part of the daily routine trains ourselves to live in a way that does not build more tension that we then have to experience when we have down time. Breathing transforms exercise into a whole body stimulator that leaves you more relaxed after and more mobile. Hold your breath and you are increasing the stiffness of your tissues. Do you feel like after everything you do you need a $100 massage and an hour of yoga just to get your body back to normal?


What if you could feel more relaxed and be more compelling during that work presentation? less nervous the night before an exam? Feel that deep runner’s high after that 10K run? What if you needed to do less to feel better?


Breathing is a powerful way to positively benefit every physiological system of the body. You are already doing it. It starts with appreciating it. If you need help getting started email me

Grant Headley PT, DPT at

If you are in Portland, OR call 503-222-1955 and we can do work in person.