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Breathing Techniques To Help Me Manage Pain.

By November 3, 2021 No Comments
Man with sciatica getting up

Breathing Techniques to Manage Pain

I often talk with my patients about my inability to do yoga.  I’m that person in class that has an abysmal downward dog. I clumsily transition between poses and laugh inside the whole time because of my ineptitude, despite my success with other athletic endeavors.  I have a hard time focusing my attention, harnessing my Qi (or whatever it is we’re trying to harness), and often times think about all the other things I should be doing.

In the past, I have frequently tried yoga or meditation during stressful times in my life, and I think this is the problem.  Meditation, breathing, and yoga are learned practices and seeking to start during times of turmoil may not be in our best interests.  So, I recommend you try the following exercises during a calm part of your day, week, or even month.  Now may be the perfect time to master these breathing techniques before the holidays.

Let’s get down to the science first!

The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that comes from the brainstem at the base of the skull and travels to the body’s organs, including but not limited to: the eyes, ears, throat, heart, lungs, digestive system, and urinary system.  It is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, or our “rest and digest” system.  It helps lower the effects of the sympathetic nervous system, our “fight or flight” system.  When we stimulate the vagus nerve with certain breathing techniques, it can help restore balance to a dysregulated autonomic nervous system, thus improving levels of pain and feelings of anxiety and stress.  If you are interested in an in-depth article of the inner workings of the vagus nerve and contemplative activity, click here.

A word of caution – deep breathing can may you a little dizzy!  After your first set, take a break to sit, breathe normally for a minute, and then complete the exercises again.

Rag Doll Breathing

  1. Start by standing, knees slightly bent, forward fold from the head down, letting your arms dangle toward your toes.
  2. Take 3 long breaths, counting to 4 on the way inward and 4 on the way outward.
  3. Start to stand, rolling the spine upward as you breathe inward.
  4. Complete in the morning to loosen up stiff muscles and start your day with an inner calm.

Rolling Breaths

  1. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent. During the exercise, note where you feel restrictions in your rib cage movement.
  2. Breathe deeply, visualizing and actively breathing into your stomach and allow your lower rib cage to expand. Take 2 large inhales here, exhaling slowly and fully.
  3. Breathe deeply, visualizing and actively breathing into your middle rib cage, allowing the bottom of your breastbone to rise. Take 2 large inhales here, exhaling slowly and fully.
  4. Breathe deeply, visualizing and actively breathing into you your upper rib cage, allowing the upper part of your breastbone to rise. Take 2 large inhales here, exhaling slowly and fully.


Where did you feel restricted?  I encourage you to repeat this exercise, but instead of focusing on the stomach and breastbone moving upward toward the ceiling, I want you to focus on the back side of your ribcage expanding down toward the floor.  Most people feel more restrictions into this direction!


Questions? Post in the comments section!

Jesse Dunn DPT CSCS

Jesse Dunn DPT CSCS

Jesse graduated from Eastern Washington University in 2017 with her Doctorate of Physical Therapy. Prior to graduate school, she graduated North Dakota State University with a degree in both Exercise Science and Psychology. Jesse has been a certified personal trainer since 2007 and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach with the National Strength and Conditioning Association since 2010. She enjoys working with all types of patients, especially helping athletes of all ages return to optimal performance. She uses a combined approach of manual therapy and exercise to help patients return to the activities they love. When she’s not working, Jesse enjoys biking, gardening, and exploring the outdoors. “I have been an injured athlete, trying to stretch, exercise, and tape myself out of an injury without success. That’s where manual therapy comes into play. I have been practicing fascial counterstrain for over a year now and notice more benefits with this technique than any other. Some things you can’t do yourself, and that’s when coming in for manual therapy can help you.”