Feeling off balance? Check your breathing!

Feeling off balance? Check your breathing!

It’s cold and flu season again. We’ve had the sniffles and found empty tissue boxes. The body feels pretty “blah” at this time but have you noticed something else? – a sense of moving off balance or actual vertigo or dizziness? Perhaps you’ve checked WebMD and think “so this is how it ends”. Well good news – no bitter ending here, just sinus pressure.

Our primary balance system – the Vestibular System – lives in our inner ear. It senses the tiniest of movements and helps adjust our bodies to stay in the desired upright position. When we have sinus pressure, however, it “ can cause fluid build-up in your ears putting pressure on your eardrum and on the inner functions of your ear” throwing off the vestibular system and your sense of balance.

This is true for severe allergies that affect the sinuses or structural issues (deviated septum, broken nose, etc.) that restrict the naval cavity. This congestion can make it difficult to take a deep breath, which brings me to another focus of balance – the diaphragm.

Our diaphragm is a central balance point in the body and has a great deal of input into how well we keep our balance. Recently, researchers studying the diaphragm and balance, learned that “impairment of diaphragm function manifested by decrease of muscle thickness and movement restriction is strongly associated with balance disorders in a clinical sample and among healthy subjects.” Even in healthy individuals, balance health is strongly regulated by diaphragmatic health.

The diaphragm is the biggest respiratory muscle in the body. It is designed to pull the air down and into the lungs while influencing proper muscle tone in and throughout the abdomen.  Its position in the upper core of the abdomen is also associated with lumbar spine stability (again…balance).  The diaphragm does so much more in our body (and I’ll write about that in a future post) meaning that a healthy, well-functioning diaphragm is often a healthy, well-functioning body.

Yet I’ve noticed, increasingly, over the years that we are largely “shallow” breathers – drawing air into our lungs by using chest (and neck) muscles to open the ribcage and let air in. Notice I said “let air in” as opposed to the diaphragm’s job of “pulling air in”. It’s a very different effect and outcome on and for the body. Combine shallow breathing with any blocked sinus issues and you have a perfect recipe for balance issues. 

There’s good news though – the simple act of deep breathing can help resolve the matter. Learn to practice Diaphragmatic Breathing. To make this easier to recognize, place your hand on your belly-button and take a deep breath purposefully moving your hand away from your body. Simple! It may feel strange at first if you are used to chest breathing, but soon, it will feel better and strongly healing.

Additionally, breathing through your nose (nasal breathing) can help to keep the sinuses clear. A yogic breathing practice called Bhramari pranayama has been shown to be “an effective complementary modality in the treatment of chronic sinusitis. Bhramari pranayama helps by ventilating the sinuses by its mechanical cleaning and anti-inflammatory effects” according to a 2019 research study. This style of breathing, also called Bumblebee breathing, involves putting your thumb in your ear – that’s new! There are several videos on YouTube to get you started. Further, nasal breathing has the added benefit of helping to fight off infections (before they settle into the body), regulate body temperature and better oxygenate the brain and body!

So now, take a deep breath…from the belly…through the nose… and feel more centered. More balanced! Inhale, exhale.

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