A few days ago my mom asked me a simple question: when you inhale, is your stomach supposed to go in or out? I said "out" and she said "hmm..mine goes in." Fast forward to doing some TT homework and reading Power Yoga by Beryl Bender Birch. There is a section called Backwards Breathing (also the title of this post if you reverse it, in case you didn't catch that).
Backwards breathing is this interesting phenomenon where at some point in their lives, many people stopped noticing their breathing and unconsciously allowed their diaphragm to shut down or seize up. It could be due to emotional baggage or stress or anxiety. Anything that repeatedly shallows your breath, so you are not consistently taking nice deep oxygen-full breaths. Instead of filling your entire chest cavity with your breath - which then pushes down your diaphragm and makes your belly expand - you are taking in only enough air to fill your lungs and maybe pushing it a little bit into your shoulders.
So what's the problem with that? Well, according to Birch, it causes all sorts of abdominal issues.
With improper or shallow breathing, the nerve cells (neurons) in the solar plexis are not fully nourished. A nerve cell's job is to generate and conduct electrochemical energy force called nerve impulses. Without sufficient prana (energy), the cells become inefficient conveyors of nerve force. In a physical sense, all abdominal viscera, fed by the solar plexis, suffer. - Birch (pg 41)
The thing that sticks out so strongly to me, is my mom has always had abdominal issues. Certain foods would upset her stomach, medications, stressful situations, etc. It is something we have grown up just accepting about her. What if her entire life of suffering from a "bad stomach" could be cured by breathing? It seems ridiculous, yet what Birch describes makes sense. Because my mom has been breathing backwards for so long, it is very possible her abdominal organs have been consistently malnourished.
I wanted to put this post out there, because according to Birch about half of the people she runs into breathe backwards. That's a ton! So maybe it could help one of you as well.
If you find yourself breathing backwards, try what Birch describes as "Active Exhalation" exercises. Sit or stand up straight. Close your mouth. Put your palms on your lower belly. Focus on your out breath - exhale with your mouth closed and press the lower rib cage down and back while simultaneously contracting the belly back towards the spine and lifting it up into the thoracic cavity. Push as much air out as possible, and then hold it for a second. Repeat. Notice everything that is happening. You don't need to worry about inhales because your body will automatically fill back up when you stop holding your exhale. Work on "retraining" your breathing by practicing this active exhalation every day. Soon, it will become more natural and make its way into the subconscious breathing you do all day.