Friday, December 25, 2015

Resolutions and Goals are Pointless

It's that time of year again. Goals and resolutions for the upcoming year. What do you have as yours? Weight loss? Saving money? Travel? Quit smoking? It's nice to have aspirations of being a better version of yourself, and we've all heard that writing down our goals increase our chances of actually reaching them by 60% or whatever (because 60% of the time, it works 100% of the time), so that's what we do.

The thing is, even if you've written down your goal for the upcoming year (and it was a pretty easy one to think up, because it's the same one you've had for the last few years as well), what are you going to do about it? Most people are all about getting inspired, which is why all those motivational posts, videos, and stories are so popular. Those allow viewers to get the "slow clap" feeling of ambition and then are inspired to "do something great." And that's where most people stop. That's also where anything goal-oriented stops. They just get the feeling, the inspiration, maybe an idea or two, and then....go to the next thing that will hold their attention for a couple minutes.

Then there are some people who are inspired and actually write down their aspirations (or goals, or resolutions, whatever you want to call them), because, well, that's how things happen, right? Don't get me wrong, writing your goals down is a great thing. It solidifies your want, it uses multiple sensory input and outputs to help you remember that's what your goal is, and it (if put in a strategic location) reminds you daily about what your goal is. Great. Now what? Wait?

I heard something about some guy named Santa, a lady called the Tooth Fairy, and some Fairy Godmother or some sort....

Ever since we've been kids, we've been led to believe that if we want something, we just wish for it, tell someone about it, and then magically, at the right time, it comes to us (I'm actually very happy my parents never introduced me to these mythical providers). And now, with the Strawberry Generation (look it up) and their sense of entitlement, it's even more so turning into a world of spoiled kids waiting for their piece of the pie. Don't let this be you. And if you realize this is you, stop being part of it. You're not doing anything to help society or yourself.

I digress....

So you have this list of goals or wants. What's the next step? There needs to be an action that will bring you closer to getting what you want. In comes the Plan of Action. Draw/write out a plan. Even if it's on a napkin, the back of a coloring page for your 7 y/o niece, or whatever. This Plan of Action should be altered several times, as you will revise it to fit a realistic version of your life and efforts (and include any high-chanced obstacles), rather than your "head in the clouds" goal. You should have a total of 3 versions, a low (if everything fails, this should still happen), a middle (if things go like I planned realistically), and a high (if everything goes perfectly). It's kind of like college applications. You have a safety net, a "probably going to end up going to" school, and a "if I'm lucky and they for whatever reason pick me because Admissions wanted a charity case" school. Each one of these should have some sort of step by step and written out process, varying basically with quantifications of each step. Add up the steps and see where each path leads you. These are your low, middle, and high goals. The low one should feel pretty comfortable. The middle should feel pretty exciting. The high one should make you feel pretty uncomfortable and question your capabilities.

Now that you have a plan (which should have included a start and end date, and hopefully landmark dates in the middle), time to set it into action! Make all the preparations you need to allow your plan to go as smoothly as possible. It's like packing for a trip. Get all the things you need together, put them all where they need to go, and then go on your trip. Sometimes you'll need help along the way (know when it's a good situation to figure things out for yourself, but also when you should ask for outside help). You'll also find that your goals and plan will change as you're following it. This is normal and to be expected. Just go with the flow, and make adjustments. In the end, you'll have made much more progress towards your goal than if you had just done what you always did in the past (that, well, never worked, because otherwise you wouldn't have had the same goal again).

Monday, December 14, 2015

"Belly Breathing" is Still Poor Breathing

Breathing dysfunctions are appearing on more people's radars, especially chest-breathers. It seems like all you need to do to get "healthy" breathing is to practice belly breathing. In fact, many fitness and health professionals are even telling their clients to breathe with their bellies. The truth is, if you only breathe with your belly, you're still doing it wrong.

The respiration system is compiled from various musculatures (among other structures, but we'll only focus on the involved muscles for the purposes of simplicity), including but not exclusive to the scalenes, SCM (sternocleidomastoid), subclavius, internal and external intercostals, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, psoas, quadratus lumborum, the pelvic floor, and of course, the diaphragm.

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All of these muscles are important in the inspiration and expiration stages of breathing. Habitual breathing (not using focus or for sport) should include the concentric activation of the inspiration muscles (diaphragm, internal intercostals), and accessory muscles (pectoralis minors, SCMs, scalenes), and pelvic floor, along with the relaxation of the expiration muscles (external intercostals, transverse abdominals, rectus abdominis, internal/external obliques, quadratus lumborum, and psoas) during inhalation, and the opposite during exhalation. A chest breather will only use their upper structures to complete the breathing cycle, completely ignoring the use of their abdominal musculature, and overusing their neck muscles. Their diaphragm then gets "tight," and sometimes cramps or causes mid back pain. They will commonly have short breaths, dizziness, fatigue, frequent yawning, low energy, side stitches, and stiff neck/shoulders (especially a tight upper trap). They might even have numbness/tingling along their arms. Poor circulation and acid reflux are also common symptoms of chest breathers because of the overly tight diaphragm.

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The solution to overdoing it on top is to start doing on the bottom, right?  Well, kind of.

I'm sure you've seen people who are really good at belly breathing. You might be one of those people. Your belly makes a nice rotund shape every time you inhale, perhaps from the belt line up to your ribcage. If you're "really good" at belly breathing, your dome belly will even reach to the top of your pubic symphysis, as it should. Go ahead, take a few of those really good belly breaths.

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Good job!

Now notice what happens to your chest when you take those breaths. Any movement? No? Or it moves up and down (towards/away from your head)? Well, you're still not breathing properly. A proper inhalation should involve the chest wall and abdomen expanding outwardly equally, not one more than the other. By outwardly, I mean 360 degrees. You should have anterior, lateral, and posterior expansion.

Many people focus on actively belly breathing and "not being a chest breather," and as a result, they overdo it, and cause another dysfunction. It's kind of like if you sprained your left ankle, and instead of learning how to use the proper musculatures to even yourself out, you put all your weight your right foot, and end up with a compressed right hip. So what's the solution? Work on 360 breathing. Breathe with your chest, your abdomen, your sides, and your back. Put some Kinesio Tape or Rock Tape, or an elastic band around your abdomen, lower rib cage, and upper chest, and see if you can breathe into the bands, all at once. This is tricky to do all at once if you're not already accustomed to it, so you might want to just work on one aspect at one time, but remember to incorporate them all together, so as to not be dysfunctional in a different way.

(image from