Breathing with Emma Ferris: Rational Wellness Podcast 82
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Emma Ferris discusses proper breathing with Dr. Ben Weitz.
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5:20 Most of us come out as belly breathing babies, but then either trauma or infections or stress lead to bad breathing habits that we get stuck with. So then we need to retrain these people to use proper breathing techniques.
6:17 Emma explains that when you feel stress, your sympathetic nervous system takes over and results in faster, shallower breathing through our mouth, rather than slower, deeper, belly breathing. This shallow, fast breathing tends to recruit our neck muscles, like our scalenes, SCMs, and our upper trapezius muscles and can contribute to neck pain. We should be using our diaphragm as our primary breathing muscle. Activating our diaphragm helps to support our back. Taking a longer exhale will tend to activate the parasympathetic system, that teaches the body that it can go into the rest, digest, and recovery mode.
10:11 When you’re breathing too fast, you breath out too much carbon dioxide and your blood chemistry shifts, making your body more alkaline. When your body becomes more alkaline, you get more anxious and you may have trouble sleeping. This reduces blood flow to the brain and also to the fingers and toes.
13:45 The importance of deep, belly breathing is that you use your diaphragm to breath. If you breath fast and shallow through your chest, you’ll end with tightness and trigger points in your scalene, SCM, upper trapezius and your other neck muscles. Your diaphragm on the other hand has several roles, including respiration, speech, and stability. Using your diaphragm helps to stabilize your lower back by building up the intra-abdominal pressure. Manual therapy and chiropractic manipulation can be helpful for reducing trigger points in these neck muscles, the ribcage, and the diaphragm.
18:40 When you are in sympathetic, stress mode it tends to shut down three systems in the body: 1. Hormones, which results in more infertility, 2. Immune system, so you tend to get more colds and flus, etc., 3. Digestion, so IBS is more common. If you are running away from a lion, it is no time for digestion. This is a result of our inability to handle stress. Breathing is a strategy that can help.
29:30 When Emma works with athletes she will often have them use a device called a PowerBreathe, which is an inspiratory muscle training device. It is like dumbbells for your diaphragm and it makes it harder to take a breath in.
Emma Ferris is a physical therapist and acupuncturist from New Zealand who created an online breathing hub called The Butterfly Effect and The Big Exhale breathing course to help patients recover from dysfunctional breathing patterns.
Dr. Ben Weitz is available for nutrition consultations specializing in Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders like IBS/SIBO and Reflux and also specializing in Cardiometabolic Risk Factors like elevated lipids, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure and also weight loss, as well as sports chiropractic work by calling his Santa Monica office 310-395-3111.
Dr. Weitz: This is Dr. Ben Weitz with the Rational Wellness Podcast, bringing you the cutting edge information on health and nutrition from the latest scientific research and by interviewing the top experts in the field. Please subscribe to the Rational Wellness Podcast on iTunes and YouTube and sign up for my free eBook on my website by going to drweitz.com. Let’s get started on your road to better health. Hello Rational Wellness Podcasters, Dr. Ben Weitz here. Thank you so much for joining me again today. For those of you who are enjoying listening to the Rational Wellness Podcast, please go to iTunes and give us a ratings and reviews, so more people can find out about the Rational Wellness Podcast.
Our topic for today is breathing. How important is breathing, what proper breathing is, why breathing properly is important for our health, and how improper breathing can lead to the following health consequences: neck and back pain, the inability to recover from injuries, fatigue, depression and anxiety, stress, concentration and memory problems, reduced performance for athletes and the inability to work through emotional trauma or grief. While there are a large number of different breathing techniques out there, especially when you start looking at all the different forms of breathing coming out of the yoga tradition, but when it comes to the more therapeutic forms of breathing, breathing through your nose and deep, slow belly breathing, rapid and shallow rapid mouth breathing seemed to be two of the more important concepts I’ve come across.
Today, our special guest is Emma Ferris. She’s an acupuncturist, a Pilates instructor, a registered physio therapist, and a public speaker, and she’s joining us all the way from New Zealand. Emma created an online breathing hub called the Butterfly Effect, and she offers the Big Exhale Breathing Course to help patients recover from dysfunctional breathing patterns. Emma, thanks so much for joining us today.
Emma Ferris: Thank you Ben for having me.
Dr. Weitz: Good. So, can you explain how you became so interested in breathing as a form of therapy?
Emma Ferris: Well, breathing kept coming up in my life with my experiences, both with my patients as a physical therapist, but my first exposure to learning about breathing was when I was around 12 years old. I struggled with a speech impediment and a stutter. And so for me, I started at a very early age getting some speech and drama and therapy for that. And, one of the most important things for that was learning to breathe. I particularly learned to breathe into my belly. So I learned that, but I never connected the dots as I went through my physical therapy training; we often put things in silos, which they often do in medicine and healthcare. Cardio, respiratory was over here, and neuro or the brain work was over here, and then muscular, which I was really fascinated with by fixing necks, back pain, all that sort of stuff; that was what I loved.
But, what really changed for me was the patients that I couldn’t fix, and it frustrated with me. You know, the neck pain and back pain that kept coming back. People that struggled with the multiple symptoms that when with it, the fatigue, anxiety, the poor sleep, and I guess in my training and in my life experiences, it wasn’t really explained how key that was until I began to dig a bit deeper and look at what the underlying causes and what the wires, and that’s obviously what you’re all about here too, Ben, is finding out what the why behind people getting to that place of dysfunction.
So, definitely in my patients, it began to show up for me. Then, I had my own life crisis when I was around 28 when I got pregnant with a condition called hyperthermesthesia. So, it’s extreme morning sickness. I realized that all the things I’d done before that point with my life; I had a busy physio practice, I was teaching, I was running workshops, and my body was running on empty before I even started to carry this little baby, little human being. I ate okay. I did a bit of exercise, but the reality was that’s not good enough, and my nervous system was just shot. So, I learned then that what I’d been doing beforehand wasn’t good enough, and so I went into this process of researching and trying to formulate my own thesis, and I became a bit of a mongrel with breathing. So, I got all these different ideas from yoga and Pilates and Butyeko and Greycliff breathing, all these different versions. And, what really stuck with me for learning about breathing was it’s actually the story about why we connect with every person, why that’s important and why breathing as it makes a difference, but the reason they got here in the first place. You know, what was the stress and trauma, what was the environment that got them to learn to need to change?
And, I think that’s so important because most of us come out breathing like babies that are beautiful belly glorious breathing. So, we don’t come out sometimes when people don’t come out screaming and yelling and appraising very well, but most of the time we’re naturally belly breathers. So, things happened along that process, whether it’s trauma, illness, infections, stress, and then the habit gets stuck, and so I’m all about looking at the why, but retaining the habit and looking at the science behind it and the muscles because it, as a physical therapist, that’s what I treat a lot of, you know, motor patterns, dysfunction, and that actually has a huge trouble with breathing retraining. Yeah.
Dr. Weitz: So, that’s interesting. So, we start out as mouth breathers. Is that what you said?
Emma Ferris: No, we start as nose breathers.
Dr. Weitz: Oh, okay.
Emma Ferris: But, belly breathing. Sorry, so we start out as beautiful, slow belly breathing. Watch a baby sleep. It’s just glorious. And, they do it so naturally.
Dr. Weitz: Right. So, can you go into some of the details about what’s proper breathing is and, and why is it so important to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth?
Emma Ferris: Yep. Well, I’ll go into the nose and the mouth breathing constantly mistaken, but a lot of it’s all about the reaction to stress and how our body’s nervous system gets overridden with breathing. So, breathing is both under conscious and unconscious control. And, that’s a really powerful point because we have the power to actually override our autonomic nervous system, which more often than not gets pushed with our busy modern day lives or the stresses we have in it, and that changes us to push into what we call your sympathetic nervous system, much of which I know you’ve talked about before on the podcast, and the reaction to stress, whatever it is, whether it’s past, present or future, drives us to change our breathing. So, if you imagine that lions are chasing us, we take a big breath in, we inhale, and we use our neck and shoulder muscles. We prepare our hip flexor muscles that like to get us out of danger, and we use those muscles to mobilize and get more air in. Now, that’s really important for that stress with danger that’s coming after us, but if that danger is a relationship issue or a problem with somebody at work or you’ve had back and neck pain for a long time, and even the thought process behind that keeps you stuck in that space of going, oh, this is dangerous. I’m sore. I’m going to get sore if I do this. In a response to a dangerous activates that fierce into our brain to trigger that reaction, and so the problem is we get stuck in that cycle, and one of the main things that changed is our breathing. So, we become faster or begin to breathe through our mouth because that’s a fast way of getting air in and getting more oxygen. which again is important for exercise, in and times of stress, to get us out of danger, but not all the time. So, as learning why we use it, people say to me, “Should we be using our nose all the time?” And, it’s like, well no, that’s not practical because when you walk up a hill, your body’s going to need to get more oxygen in, so you need to be able to go to mouth, but it’s as soon as possible going back to that nose breathing and reconnecting with it.
So, the reason why the nose is important is because it’s got two holes versus one for the mouth, and so it slows the air down. Like, it’s simple concepts, but if you can use that, it slows the air down, which is really important for your diaphragm, and the diaphragm is your main breathing muscle, and that sits between your rib cage and your stomach, so to say, and your lungs, and learning to use your diaphragm in the right way is really what for me, changes people’s perception and understanding of breathing, so it’s not about taking big breaths, and that’s the content I want people to be aware of as well. When you say take a big breath, it’ll calm you, that doesn’t actually work always. That can actually stimulate you more. So, for me, it’s about low, slow belly breathing and long exhale, which is why my program is called the big exhale, so then you need to get out of that fight or flight inhale mode and learning to drop the chest down, and that’s really important for neck and back pain, which we can talk about it a bit more later on.
Dr. Weitz: Why is it more important to have a longer exhale?
Emma Ferris: Well, that’s one of the easiest ways to activate that parasympathetic nervous system, so activating that teaches the body that it can go into that rest, digest, and recovery mode. And, that’s why in Yoga and pranayama and all the techniques like Tai Chi work on lengthening the exhale, free diving, Pilates, meditation; naturally they’re getting your comps of your breathing, which is activating that parasympathetic nervous system. That’s why people feel good doing those activities that you don’t always know why. So, and the other reason is that we’re not meant to be driven into that fight or flight response. And, we do, when our blood chemistry changes over time, when we’re breathing too fast. And, I know you’ve talked about this before with Rosalba Courtney, who I’m a really big fan of; she’s a wonderful breathing teacher around the world, an osteopath from Australia. Now, the blood chemistry shifts when you’re breathing too fast. What it does is your, by breathing out too much carbon dioxide, which is way more important than oxygen, you end up increasing your pH and making it more alkaline. So, over time that if your body stays in that state, it thinks that that’s normal, that new level of CO2 balance is what you’re supposed to go to and keeps you driven physiologically to breathe in that vast state.
So learning to lengthen your exhale also overrides that new level of normal or what you think is normal, and that’s really important for anxiety, patients who struggle with anxiety, with a shortness of breath and a suffocation response. And, so a lot of the techniques that are out there are great, like Butyeko, which gets you to lengthen your exhale to increase that CO2 liberal response, so that your brain goes, okay, I can now hold for longer. I don’t feel that fear and danger response of suffocation, which means I need to take a big breath in and gets you stuck on the inhale mode.
Dr. Weitz: Most of us think that the whole purpose of breathing is just to get oxygen. So, can you talk about why getting enough carbon dioxide is important?
Emma Ferris: Well, CO2 has a really big impact onto both the pH, like I say, because it actually shifts the … By breathing out too much CO2, you shift the pH, and then your body’s going to try and replace that acidic component, and it’s going to start leaking bicarbonate into the blood. So it has a bit of a knock-on effect and disseminates systems. One of the other impacts is the brain, so when you change that pH and the CO2 depletes, you actually reduce the blood flow to the brain, which is why there’s a connection with memory and concentration, brain fog, or whatever you want to call it, processing and cognition, and for learning, that’s a really important part for children and for adults. And, one of the things that I find really powerful was when people get stuck in that fastest stressed breathing and our habits contribute to that, like caffeine or alcohol that can shift our breathing. But, stimulants we don’t realize then that our body will be shifting its blood chemistry, and it takes a while to recover. And, even those habits and stimulants can actually then create a shift in the blood chemistry, which then creates more anxiety and other components of poor sleep that gets you stuck in that cycle.
So, the pH is pretty powerful. One of the other things is it actually causes, with that shift in pH, your blood is going to go from our limbs and our extremities because we don’t, we’re not worrying about feeding the blood into the limbs and the hands when you are in that stressed state, and this is important for athletes as well, so it’s going to divert blood flow to areas that need it, like our organs. And, so we can get cold fingers and toes. This is one of the signs of breathing dysfunction. I get tingling in fingers and as well. And, so there’s a change even in blood flow and our brain and our organs. We just divert things around because of that physiological push.
Dr. Weitz: What’s the importance of deep belly breathing as opposed to, I guess more shallow chest breathing?
Emma Ferris: Yeah, one thing is that as changing the right breathing muscles to work, so most of the breathing, like 70 to 80 percent of our breathing should come from our diaphragm, our big belly breathing muscle. So, what happens when you’re stressed and you start to use the inhale? You’ll get stuck with what we call breath stacking, where you breathe in and you hold, and then you might do that a little bit, but then your brain goes, oh, I feel like I’m suffocating. I’ll take another breath in. Then, you get stuck in that mode and using our backup breathing muscles and what I call your parachute reserve. And these are your neck muscles, your scalenes on the side of your neck, your sternocleidomastoid from the front of your neck all back up into your head and your skull down into your sternum and your upper traps, those muscles that get really sore and tight on the back of your shoulder.
Now, we’ve seen them all the time. Clinically, I know you do too, Ben, with our patients. I gave you a cue there, and this is a really important point because we’re using those muscles between, depending on your breathing, that breathing frequency between 17,000 and 210,00 times a day, the amount of breaths we take. So, if you’re using the wrong muscles in the first place, you’re going to cause more trigger points, those achy, knotty spots that can become active and referred to be trigger point index or trigger front for zero down the arms. So, that’s one of the main ones is that you’re actually using the wrong muscle all the time, and it’s like a reverse drug when you start using the top part and not the bottom part. So, teaching them how to use the diaphragm is really important, but also what I talk about is 360 degree breathing. So that diaphragm has attachments right from the front of your stomach all the way around the ribs down the sides because it’s like a dome and all the way into your lower back into by your L1, L2, your lower vertebrate, and your hip flexor, your fight or flight stress muscle, and it has that neural connection through the ear, which is pretty powerful. So, learning to activate the diaphragm is really important for both intraabdominal pressure, and there’s a lot of research now looking at diaphragm function and dysfunction with back pain, and when someone has an episode of back pain, one of the first things we’re going to do is inhale and protect, and they actually lose that activation of the diaphragm, which actually is needed to actually stabilize. So, you get in this vicious cycle because of not breathing right, and they create more trigger points because the physiologic physiology changes, and then they also feel more stressed and anxious about being in pain. And, so when I go to bend or twist, they go, “This is how I injured my back last time; I’d better protect.”
So, from the point of view of the diaphragm, it has several roles: respiration’s king, speech is queen. And, I guess the next one is stability. So, if you’re walking up a hill, first thing that’s going to go is stability. You start to not stabilize very well. And, then you speak each, and then respiration. So, that’s always going to be the key thing. So, you start to recruit from other muscles. So, it’s really important to look at that role of diaphragm, but to understand that it actually, it’s a one way muscle, and that only works on the inhale, and then if you learn to lengthen your exhale and relax as a diaphragm recoils back up, then you can activate that parasympathetic nervous system. But, a lot of time, when I’m looking at people that have been training yoga or training other techniques, they’re actually forcing the air out and causing that CO2 balance to actually be shifted just by the way they’re breathing, so a lot of it’s just conscious retraining and moments. You know, I had to lie down for 20 minutes. It can be I’m going to stop right now on my drive around LA or New Zealand and just cause an exhale. You know, simple things add up.
Dr. Weitz: You’ve refined restrictions in the diaphragm and have to use manual techniques to free those up. Yeah.
Emma Ferris: Absolutely, and, all of those breathing, so scalenes, verse ribs, upper traps, and I use a lot of dry needling or I think … What do you guys call it over there? Trigger point needling, and that’s really effective for releasing the result of the poor breathing pattern, but unless you change the breathing pattern, the driver on the why it comes back. So I love the manual therapy for that.
Dr. Weitz: Yeah. We find chiropractic manipulation also beneficial in those cases as well.
Emma Ferris: And, particularly for thoracic because if you’re not getting thoracic mobility and ribcage, you’re not going to get that lower stability. So, I 100 percent agree because that also goes into that parasympathetic loop, automatic nervous system.
Dr. Weitz: Yeah.
Emma Ferris: So I love manual therapy. There’s so many ways of getting somebody into a calm state. That’s why I love acupuncture as well to go look, what is the right formula for a person in front of you?
Dr. Weitz: Yeah. One of the things, one of the conditions we didn’t talk about or I didn’t mention, which comes to mind when you talk about rest and digest, is IBS or CBO, and I could see how breathing be really super important for those patients because if they’re always in this sympathetic mode, they’re never going to properly digest their food, and it’s going to increase all their digestive symptoms.
Emma Ferris: Absolutely, and the same stress mode … If you’re stacking stress on that sympathetic thing, they usually change the bacteria in your stomach in the first place. So, one of the great things with learning to use a diaphragm and is that you’re actually going to pop through, you get the empty stomachs to actually work in the right way, get the blood flow, and when you are in a stressed state, blood flow is diverted from your bowel and your stomach because when you’re running away from that lion, you’re not worried about processing food. There are three areas that get shut down hormones, so particularly females, and we’re seeing that a lot with infertility problems these days, but that cycle and upset from that by being stuck into the sympathetic drive and immunity, so we get colds and flues, we’re rundown, or we’re stressed and particularly the digestive system.
So, there’s so many more problems these days all because of our inability to manage stress, and that comes in so many forms, and there’s a lot of pressures and by society that drives us, and I just think as the more that we can get this understanding out because people are hungry. There’s a groundswell of looking at techniques that are focused on holistic treatments like the manual therapy, like acupuncture, like yoga, because it makes you feel good in a way that is not a pill in a bottle. It’s very hard to override that nervous system.
Dr. Weitz: Yeah. When it comes to nose breathing, when I talked to clients there’re so many people that have problems with allergies and with you know, issues not being able to breathe properly. How do you deal with some of those issues if you’re trying to get them to breathe through their nose, and their sinus passages are partially clogged, or they have deviated septum, or they have allergies, or they have, you know, some of these chronic respiratory problems?
Emma Ferris: They’re huge problems, and that can be the driver in the first place for getting stuck in the habits, but then also that habit of mouth breathing gets them stuck with the sinus problems as well because they’re not actually using that nose as a filter and keeping the blood flow through there. So, it’s really problem solving for the individual. And, so one of my first steps for someone struggling, getting them back to the doctor and check for any polyps and any problems in teeth. And, then there’s simple things that you can do, like sinus rinses for instance. Have you done them, Ben, a sinus rinse?
Dr. Weitz: Yeah.
Emma Ferris: People don’t always like them, but they’re so satisfied, and that’s a really good way of cleaning out the nose and allowing it to get that filter through. And, one of them is learning to breathe through both nostrils because you actually switch nostrils through the day that you break through. Do you know that?
Dr. Weitz: No.
Emma Ferris: So, every one to four hours, you’re switching nostrils, so one side becomes the one you’re breathing through. And, the other side is the cleaning system. So, if you have one side that is actually blocked, you have a deviated septum, then even in your sleep, you’ll be switching through the mouth breathing because you’re short of air. So, getting that correct is very important, and during those steps, before you try anything like mouth taping, because that’s not for everybody. You’ve got to check people’s saturation and stuff as well, but you know, I use it myself. I use it on different patients, and it’s very successful. So again, it’s not a one size fits all model for nose breathing but learning to-
Dr. Weitz: How do you decide when somebody, when it’s appropriate for somebody to do mouth taping, and can you explain what mouth taping is? This is where you use special tape to shut your mouth while you’re sleeping, right? To keep it closed.
Emma Ferris: Yeah, absolutely, and you don’t need to have much on it because a lot of people can even open your mouth. People go, “Oh, that feels really scary. I don’t like the idea of that.” And, it’s always a bit of a jug of patients, you know, they keep them quiet, and I said, look, you can say goodnight to your partner and husband then rollover and then take your mouth up. I have to see it, but it’s actually really effective in getting that diaphragm to actually activate when you’re sleeping in the first place instead of going to that mouth breathing, but really what people got to think about is … I’ll come back to nose taping in a second, but you’re breathing at night is a consequence of what you’ve been doing with your habits in the day. So, if you have been caffeinated, if you have, which is very strong culture we have, and you’ve been pushing your body hard and driving it hard, and you’re basically running a marathon through the day with your breathing, then when you go to sleep, your body’s not going to go, oh, I’m going to go calm and relax. It’s going to go really fast, be fast, be fast. And, so you’re not going to sleep well; you’re not gonna get into that nice delta wave when you’re sleeping. You’re gonna keep that mouth breathing.
So, taping is again as dependent on to make sure that people can breathe through here. So, I do a test to check that they can put like a knife or a spatula under there, and we can say if they’re breathing through both nostrils. I can check the nozzle sides. I usually get an EMT to check or a Dr. to check to make sure there’s no polyps or anything else, and we checked saturation as well, so make sure when you do practice, that’s a practice that before you go to sleep, have a lie down and see how that feels and that I get too anxious or short of breath with that and that saturation levels don’t drop down. So, it’s kind of a looking at the why behind that person. It’s used really commonly, but again, don’t use it for just everybody. I have a lot of athletes because they have already been breathing too much mouth breathing too much in the daytime, and what they try, and they don’t realize that that’s still contributing to the recovery at night. And, so when they start doing that, they sleep in the muscles, at least teens. They don’t need as much magnesium, which is to relax muscles and help with recovery.
Dr. Weitz: Interesting. Can everybody change their breathing? Or, are some people just stuck with mouth breathing?
Emma Ferris: Well, there’s some physiological reasons which will be driving you to breath faster. And, so there could be. It’s really important to get checked out by your doctor. What we find is that breathing dysfunction is often the last thing that gets diagnosed, and for reasons like diabetes, that can be a real reason why you’re driving faster. I have a lot of patients. I work with a lot of people with Parkinson’s as well, and the anxiety behind that also drives you to breathe faster within the breathing faster drives you to have more anxiety. And, so that has low dopamine as a big part of it. So, there are some people that need even medical support to help shift and get them into a good space. Like, I don’t say that this is going to cure everybody, like there’s not a one size fits all model, but learning to use breathing as an adjunct like with asthma, it’s a really important part. It’s like 40 percent of people that are asthmatic also breathing dysfunction in them, so you can use breathing alongside your other tools into that you can wean off or get the support and work with the respiratory physio to help get that under control.
So, there’s lots of conditions that also benefit highly from training your breathing, become a conscious of it, but anybody can do it, and in regards to how long it takes, it depends how long you’ve been stuck in that fight or flight mode. And, I have a patient that I worked with recently or the last last year really, and he’s a good example of someone that he came into his doctor with several factors, not sleeping well. He’s 40. He was going through a cardiac experience. So, he went to the emergency room thinking he was having an anxiety … Sorry, having a cardiac, a heart attack, and he was getting tingling in fingers and arms, and so many symptoms, the body, stomach problems, erection dysfunction, which is also a sexual dysfunction can be also linked to breathing function because you’ve got to be able to get arousal both sympathetic and parasympathetic with your breathing. So that’s an important area to look at all aspects.
So this guy, because Dr Stefanie was very switched on and went, “I think your breathing’s part of it,” and sent them him to see me, and over three or four sessions, that stress dropped down dramatically, and it was a huge shift for him. And, so he’d basically been, the why behind it though was he was going through a huge a court case trying to get custody of his children through a big divorce, and that had been driven him, and he was really PTSD; he was posttraumatic stress given his marriage, struggling with balancing business and life, and it wasn’t until he got those tolls he can recover, but there was a lot more behind the scenes for that too with family experiences, and so you’ve got to dig deeper and not go there’s not just a habit. There was the driver and the why behind it.
And, when he started to see that his breathing pattern was actually linked to emotions, so when he came in, I’ll be like I, “Okay, so what’s the fear today, mate?” Because, he’d be out here and holding that upper chest, breathing in, and beholding and be like, “Okay, no, this is what’s happening in my life.” And, when we actually talked about and expressed it, it dropped away and belly breathing, they need to do actually to activate the diaphragm is also linked in with your emotions with happiness and joy. So, that’s one of the powerful things I find too is that it’s not just about breathe through your nose and breathe through your belly and actually has an impact on our emotions. And, the research for me that has changed it was a few years ago now, in 2011. It was a guy called Pierre Philpot, and he did this research study. And, I love it because for me, emotions is important in life; we connect; we interact with people. Relationships are huge. So, what it showed was he had this group A, and it looked at four emotions: sadness, joy, fear, and anger. And, he asked that first group to think of those emotions and then look at their breathing patterns. And, each emotion had a separate breathing pattern. So, I look at it clinically; we see that fear and anger is upper chest breathing. We see. Sorry, fear is upper chest breathing, anger as bracing and holding through our stomachs and obliques, which has a big impact onto a stomach and digestive system. Sadness is often that depressive, a posture that slumped down teenagers, posture that impacts, again, the way we breathe. And so, and the joy breathing is that belly breathing opening up into their stomach. So, what he found in the other group, group b, who knew nothing about group a, once he said, “Breathe in these four patterns, and then what emotion do you feel? The top summary of it.” And it was either the joy, sadness, fear, or anger. So, we have the power to change our emotions by the way we breathe, and we have the power to change our breathing by the way, our emotions, which is why coming back to the simple practices like gratitude, which, you know, hard to put the science behind that, but it’s getting there, you know, and mindset and our shifts behind that has a huge physiological impact onto our body and the way that we breathe in and breathing has a huge impact onto the way we sleep, the way we play, they way we love. That’s huge.
Dr. Weitz: Cool. So, you work with people in a one on one basis as well as offering group classes, right?
Emma Ferris: Yes, absolutely.
Dr. Weitz: So, when you’re working with a professional athlete, how is that different and do have them try to breathe through their nose while they’re running or doing their athletic performance?
Emma Ferris: Yeah, so it depends on the athlete and what their sport is. Many athletes need to train specifically for what they’re doing, like swimmers and rowers and cyclists all have different aspects, and many of the sports that actually impact diaphragm position like rowing and cycling ’cause they’re bent forward have more breathing dysfunction in the first place, so they’ve got to work harder to control that, and that one is a high link with back pain and neck pain because of that, because they’re having to switch between. So, the reality is when I look at training somebody, it goes back to breathing pattern first. So, how are they breathing? Have they got the right control? Can I activate the diaphragm? And, you might have to train them for a while to get that right in the first place. Once you’ve got pattern right, then you go to strengthening, and I use a great device called a power breathe. Have you heard of that before?
Dr. Weitz: No.
Emma Ferris: So power breathe is a … So, I’ve talked about exhaling being really important in that first phase, it really is getting that long exhale and activating because if you can’t exhale, you can’t inhale. It sounds really silly again, but if you don’t get that diaphragm to lift up and exhale, you can actually get the power into it to actually get the right inhale into the base. So, for that second stage, particularly for athletes, though I do use this to people that got anxiety, neck pain, back pain, COPD problems as well. We use a device called power breathe and that is inspiratory muscle training. So, it’s training your diaphragm to actually be strong for the activity. And, it’s pretty powerful. It’s only the science behind it, the research shows 30 breaths twice a day using this inspiration master trainer is enough to get the same results as a … So, there was one research study that showed over six weeks, I think it was, four to six weeks later the research. And, one group was using the inspiratory trainer, and the other group was using, was running 45 minutes five times a week, and they had the same changes in the respiratory function from doing the diaphragm strengthening. So, it’s, you know, it’s a lot, a lovely adjuncts to training for people because they can actually get really good changes in physiology because the diaphragm is getting thicker, and it also shows after six weeks of using that, that your diaphragm thickens up to around 13 percent, which is quite a lot for work-
Dr. Weitz: Well, how does this device work? Does it wrap around you or something like that?
Emma Ferris: I actually brought one from the clinic I was going to show, you know, it’s in your mouth, so you put in your mouth, and you’re going a quick breath into using a diaphragm and to get in there. So, it’s a quick, breath in, fast and hard. You’ve got to work at least 50 percent resistance to get the diaphragm. So, they learned from the research as well that you can’t go at like resistance training for like 30 percent on your one rep maximum isn’t actually enough to get the changes in your diaphragm strength. I think it needs to be that 50 percent to 60 percent mark, and so I teach people in the clinic that you can work at it to sort of feel what that energy is or that level is for you when you train it. There’s a company out of UK that’s created them, and there’s a wonderful respiratory physiologists, and she is Allison Connell I want to her say name is that’s loved a lot of this research, and there’s great research now even in New Zealand, physio, and Aukland is looking has led to the break of breathing at the diaphragm, changing the strengthening and the dysfunction that occurs, people with anxiety, with back pain, and looking at that under ultrasounds, which is pretty cool seeing those changes.
Dr. Weitz: I’ve seen people in the gym with these things, so it’s some sort of a mouthpiece. And what does it do exactly, makes it harder to get a breath in?
Emma Ferris: Absolutely. I mean it’s like breathing through lots of straws. So it kind of risk for respiratory through there, so it’s like dumbbells for your diaphragm. And, so if that’s targeting that breathing muscle, you still want the pattern to be right though. Some of the research I went and saw a respiratory researcher in Canada about two years ago who was researching the respiratory training with athletes. And, what they noticed was the pattern store. If you don’t breathe in the right pattern, all your training is the upper chest breathing muscles, and what he wants to do is that diaphragm, so it might mean you turn the resistance down, and you work on the pattern, but then that diaphragm strengthens to actually help pay for working in a high level when you go and run or when you go and lift something, it’s going to naturally activate and do its job, so it doesn’t fatigue faster. And, what I loved about the research there as well, another, I think it was in the UK, they looked at the blood flow and the limbs. So, they’re looking at when you were doing your exercise and training. So, I think this is cycling athletes; they looked at the blood flow in your veins and the legs, and what they found is after six weeks of doing the the inspiratory master training with the power breath thing, it was a device they used, they reduced the … The blood flow stayed in the limbs for longer. So, what it showed was the body’s stress response was better. So, the body didn’t go all right, I can train harder, and then when I get fatigued I had to pull the blood in, and it could actually keep the blood and the limbs for longer, which is really important for athletes, for endurance and for training. So, lots of consequences with using something like that.
Dr. Weitz: How do you tell if they’re using their diaphragm? Do you put your hand on their diaphragm?
Emma Ferris: Yeah, I’m very manual with that. So, very much feeling that, you can see it. You can get them to put hands on their chest while I’ve got one hand here, and they don’t all use a mirror, biofeedback in any way that you’ve got. Posture’s a huge part of that, so if you slumped down and then you’d try and breathe, your diaphragm is going to start recruiting somewhere else. If you lift up too much, you’re gonna use your upper chest. So, even teaching people when your choose is like good simple habits add up, and that’s like a modeler for me is small changes make a big impact with what we’re doing.
Dr. Weitz: We work a lot with posture, and that’s super important, and it goes hand in hand with the breathing.
Emma Ferris: Yeah, absolutely. So using that posturing, raising that with your breathing is a very powerful tool, and then add some credit to it that you’re doing really well.
Dr. Weitz: Great. So, any other final thoughts you want to have for our audience? I think we got some good information to help folks with their breathing.
Emma Ferris: I think my take-home and something that I really like people just to be aware of is just take a moment and enter the day as many times you can is just to exhale, and the one thing I can say is you can do it out the mouth just once. Do it for me now, Ben. Breathe out the mouth, go uh, noticing your chest drops down, so that’s like a little valve release, then go back to nose breathing, but that little we exhale just drops you bit more into that calm part of that nervous system that needs a bit of love and attention. So, do it when you had the kids, when something’s winding you up, when you’ve got a traffic, wherever you are. I don’t have much traffic in my small town in New Zealand where I live, but you never know in LA and around the world.
Dr. Weitz: Oh yeah, LA traffic is brutal all the time. Yep.
Emma Ferris: Take moments. Take moments and use it to change that breathing. And, when you think about that, a lot of conscious drop, see what emotion you can bring up. Can you create joy? Can you shift your mindset, which will then impact your nervous system? Okay, take power back.
Dr. Weitz: I’ll be using it on the drive home because I’ll be hitting the 4:00 traffic. And then I’m going to go vote after that. So, I’ll need some stress reduction there too.
Emma Ferris: And, the next few days, good luck in New York is all I can say.
Dr. Weitz: God help the world.
Emma Ferris: And, please help us out over here.
Dr. Weitz: So how can listeners get a hold of you and find out about your programs?
Emma Ferris: Well, there’s a few ways. I have my online breathing hub called thebutterflyeffect.online. So, if you go through or search the “big exhale” or my name “Emma Ferris.” I’m not related to Tim Ferriss. I’ve got only one s at the end of my name. You can find me there, and there’s lots of ways. I have a free online Pilates video, 15 minutes that you can do, which helps work through some of the stretches that I do because what I find is if you can’t get the neck muscles and chest muscles and the hip flexor to release in the breath flow dropdown. So, that’s the place to sign up and join in and watch that. I also have my online breathing course called the big exhale, and that’s a 30 day program, but you can do it over a whole year. And, the first five days of it are free, so if you want to sign up for the big exhale, you can do that. Or join me on a workshop, come to New Zealand’s, come on my retreats, or meet me around the world in Malaysia or wherever the next one’s gonna be I have tour retreats in the states, so I can fly over and change the way that we breathe in the states post election.
Dr. Weitz: Sounds good.
Emma Ferris: Yeah.
Dr. Weitz: Emma, I really enjoyed this.
Emma Ferris: Thank you. I appreciate you having me on.
Dr. Weitz: Okay. I’ll talk to you soon.
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