Understanding the Breath


Understanding the Breath by C.J. Ong

Understanding the Breath
By C.J. Ong Jr. Quantum Performance

The act of breathing or respiration is something most people take for granted. Respiration is controlled by the autonomic nervous system and occurs without conscious effort on our part. Inspiration serves to bring fresh air into the systems of the body while expiration helps clear waste from the body. However there are several factors we should be aware to make our breathing more efficient and beneficial.

When asked what muscle is responsible for our breathing most people reply “the diaphragm”. They are only partially correct, as there are actually three primary muscles of respiration (diaphragm, intercostals, and abdominals) and fifteen accessory muscles of respiration (scalenes, sternocleidomastiod, serratus anterior, pectoralis major / minor, upper trapezius, latissimus dorsi, thoracic erector spinae, iliocostalis lumborum, quadratus lumborum, serratus posterior superior / inferior, levatores costarum, transverses thoracis, and subclavius). Knowing this makes it easy to see why it is so important to have well conditioned muscles in terms of strength and flexibility! The conditioning processes for these muscles need not be complicated. Programs incorporating a well-balanced approach including functional strength training will yield the needed results through consistent application.

Another factor essential to efficient breath is posture. Poor posture and the resulting misalignment of the body segments leads to increased strain on the muscles and supporting structures. If prolonged it can result in overstretching and weakening of the muscles and ligaments, adaptive shortening of the muscles, increased pressure on discs and decreased lung capacity.

While analysis of posture usually involves lateral, anterior and posterior assessment one can be easily made aware good posture and its’ role in the breath by learning the yoga poses Tadasana, Sukasana, and Sarvasana. All three of these poses have valid applications in a variety of sports including weight training, running, and triathlon. The application of good posture in athletic pursuits will yield increased cardio-respiratory efficiency in addition to having a calming effect on the body’s ten levels of cellular organization.

When exercising one should be aware that body mechanics affects the breath. Poor body mechanics often has a negative effect on the breath and in turn lowering cardio-respiratory efficiency. Some examples include: the cyclist with their seat too high who is forced to use several of the muscles of both respiration and inspiration in an attempt to stabilize the body, the weightlifter who fails to keep their hips on the bench while bench pressing or the person who pulls themselves “along” a treadmill by placing their hands on the control panel in an effort to achieve “a better workout”.

Finding the correct way to breath is not difficult. After allowing your posture to come into proper alignment allow the breath to enter your lungs through your nose, allowing your stomach to rise as the lungs expand and the diaphragm presses the internal organs down. Then allow the breath to leave your lungs through the nose, allowing your lungs to deflate and stomach to fall.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes in The Miracle of Mindfulness (1975), “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.” The time invested in learning to breath correctly may provide one with many possible benefits including better workouts, stress reduction and an improved quality of life.


Kendall, F.P., McCreary, E.K., Provance, P.G. (1993). Muscles: Testing and Function Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins

Simons, D.G., Travell, J.G., Simons, L.S. (1999).

Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins

© 2005, C.J. Ong, Jr. / Quantum Performance