Many with scoliosis also have deviated septum wherein the internal dividing wall between the right and left nostril – the nasal septum shifts away from the midline. This causes blockage/narrowing of the nasal airways which in turn affects our breathing and how we feel.
The debated question here is does scoliosis cause this? Or does a deviated septum cause scoliosis? It will be the proverbial chicken-egg dilemma.
Please note, a deviated septum could be congenital or caused by birth trauma (forceps delivery), a physical trauma (like falling, and suffering a broken nose), or during contact sports, or traffic accidents. Any of these incidents can affect the position of the nasal septum.
My Theory On Deviated Septum
It was only after I slowly began to feel safe that I began to be aware of my internal body state – my felt sense. How I had been unconsciously holding my breath to hold in my emotions, numbing my body to any feeling. Literally, stopping my feelings from getting out.
To survive a toxic home environment, we learn to suppress our feelings to avoid punishment and overwhelm. We stifle our emotions by tensing various muscle groups and holding or restricting our breath. This armoring is our protective mechanism, shielding us against the harsh realities of our existence.
The utter grief of losing my mother had to be suppressed to cope with my terrifying environment post her death. Violence, sexual abuse, meanness, parentification, and neglect. My feelings and emotions had to be blocked, I needed to be hypervigilant to the dangers in my environment.
To repress our emotions we instinctively repress our breath more on the right side because the right brain is our emotional brain. Thus leading to the right septum becoming deviated as in my case. This is true of most who developed idiopathic scoliosis.
Breath Holding – A Response To Trauma
A traumatized child instinctively controls distressing feelings by holding their breath. Babies as young as 2 months old can have breath-holding spells – involuntary stopping breathing that is not in the child’s control. Breath-holding spells most often occur when a child becomes suddenly upset or hurt, angry or shocked. Children cry, then catch their breath and ‘hold’ it without breathing.
Gradually, as we grow up we become adept at holding our feelings by holding our breath. Whenever there is a sudden and unexpected sense of threat, the diaphragm will freeze instinctively. We tense up our bodies and hold our breath to prevent intense feelings from overwhelming us.
Further, if the threats in our toxic environment do not abate we become chronically stuck in our defensive breathing pattern. Long-term constriction of our primary breathing muscle (the diaphragm) eventually constricts corresponding muscles which eventually affect our skeletal development leading to spinal misalignment.
In Reich’s model, the seven segments of emotional body armor are the ocular, oral, cervical, thoracic, diaphragmatic, abdominal, and pelvic. The ocular segment pertains to sight, hearing, and smell. It includes the eyes, eyelids, forehead, nose, and deep muscles at the base of the occiput.
Holding our breath to hold on to our emotions becomes an unconscious pattern – our armor. Eventually, this unconscious habit gets incorporated into our personalities.
Connection Between Breathing and Emotions
Good breathing means diaphragmatic nostril breathing and it should be slow, even breathing. This allows your lungs to expand and create negative pressure that drives air in through the nose and mouth, filling your lungs with air. This is how newborn babies naturally breathe.
Eastern medicine and martial arts were very aware of the connection between breath, emotion, and energy. How the interplay of these three elements affects our health and well-being. It is only in recent times particularly with the popularity of Wim Hof, that the western world is waking up to the effect of the breath on the mind and body.
If you’re breathing properly, your abdomen should expand and contract with each breath.
Unfortunately, by the time a child reaches 5 years many would have lost their natural ability to breathe properly. Most chest (thoracic) breathe which involves short, rapid breaths. Chest breathing is associated with the fight or flight response. This usually happens because the home/school environments try to crush a child’s spontaneous emotional expression making them feel anxious and stressed.
Breathing properly through our nose and with our diaphragm has long-term effects on our health.
Checking Whether Your Nasal Septum has Deviated
A simple test to check for if you have a deviated nasal septum:
1) Place your index finger on one side of your nose and breathe in the air on the nostril that is open. 2) Do the same thing on the other side of your nose. 3) While doing steps 1 and 2, check how easy or difficult it was for air to pass through your nostrils. 4) If your breathing is uneven, or if breathing is more difficult on one side than the other, then chances are you have a deviated septum.
Most people have a slight deviation, only severe deviations need surgery. A minor surgical procedure known as septoplasty can cure symptoms related to septal deviations. However, if the underlying reason for the septum becoming deviated are not addressed it may end up being even worse than it was before
Problems That Arise Due to a Deviated septum
For those of us with scoliosis, having a deviated septum only adds to our cup of woes. Besides the discomfort and pain in our backs, we have problems with our breathing. The constant feeling of congestion or blockage.
It also leads to frequent nosebleeds, chronic sinus infections, facial pain, headaches, postnasal drip, noisy breathing, snoring, sleep apnea, and other sleep problems.
Having a deviated septum, makes you feel ill at ease. How can you feel fine, when one side of your brain is not being oxygenated properly.
Additionally, a deviated septum could lead to a pronounced facial asymmetry. You could suffer from jaw malocclusion, TMJ disorders, crooked teeth, and a host of other issues. According, to the armoring theory which I totally agree with, our misalignments begin top-down. Scoliosis begins in our eyes and the body compensates for imbalances.
Unable to Breathe
Earlier, I thought that not being able to breathe freely was connected to the rotation of my rib cage. It was fairly recently, through one of the social media posts on scoliosis, did I become aware of having a deviated septum.
During one of my research prowls I serendipitously, happened to read a comment about the benefits of breathing on our mental state with a link to Wim Hof. I have learned now to follow the signs and just for a lark began doing the breathing. Ah, that man has such a calming voice. Breathe in, breathe out, hold your breath, breathe in hold your breath and again repeat. After just one session, I got up feeling so calm and focused.
I was confused, how could breathing and holding one’s breath change how you feel. Wasn’t breath-holding a trauma response? Aren’t we exacerbating our trauma by doing this? Well, there is an explanation for this paradox.
Breath-holding Is The New Black
Diver, author and trainer, Stig Severinsen calls breath holding the new black. When you consciously hold your breath, you activate the mammalian dive response. This innervates the vagus nerve (a major component of the parasympathetic nervous system) causing a decrease in your heart rate, reducing blood pressure and shifting your body into a relaxed state.
When you hold your breath a little longer, the diaphragm starts to move and you build up carbon dioxide (CO2). The longer you hold your breath, the more CO2 endurance you build up. Building up CO2 tolerance leads to better resilience to stress.
One may think how does this make sense. We were taught that carbon dioxide is harmful. However, carbon dioxide is not as bad for your body as you may think. On the contrary, your body needs it to support the proper functioning of its systems. A lack of carbon dioxide and abundance of oxygen in your cells, which happens when you breathe too fast and too much as during hyperventilation, may cause respiratory alkalosis i.e disrupt the blood’s acid-base balance.
CO2 tolerance increases your ability to handle a temporary imbalance before it shifts back to normal.
Other benefits of holding your breath temporarily include brain cell protection, improved lung capacity, strengthened diaphragm, reduced levels of stress and anxiety. Furthermore, through the strengthening, of your diaphragm, your core muscle stability improves. Having a good posture is dependant on having a strong core.
Don’t worry about how your brain will respond to the lack of oxygen. Even if you go unconscious as long as you are not in the water, the brain’s ’emergency’ automatic breathing mechanisms are activated and you automatically begin breathing.
What Technique Works For You
There are numerous breathing techniques that include breath-holding. Most of them have been copied/adapted from the ancient yogic pranayama breathing techniques. Listed below are some easy-to-do techniques which can be done unobtrusively anywhere.
Stig Severinsen created an organized, flexible, and powerful methodology. The Breatheology toolbox includes multiple breathing and breath-holding modalities. It utilizes a combination of breathing and breath-work techniques along with meditation and visualization in order to connect the mind and body to create instant relaxation and immediately reduce anxiety and stress.
Dr. Buteyko a Russian physician who developed this discovered that the level of carbon dioxide in your lungs correlates to your ability to hold your breath after normal exhalation. Central to the method is a measurement called the Control Pause. This involves timing how long you can comfortably hold your breath following an exhalation.
3) Box breathing, also known as four-square breathing,
It involves exhaling to a count of four, holding your lungs empty for a four-count, inhaling at the same pace, and holding air in your lungs for a count of four before exhaling and beginning the pattern anew.
4) 4-7-8 Breathing
This technique was conceived by Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard-trained medical doctor, and founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. The 4-7-8 breathing technique, also known as “relaxing breath,” involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds.
This pranayam involves alternately breathing from each nostril – breathe in from the left nostril and then press the left nostril gently with the ring finger and little finger. Removing the right thumb from the right nostril, breathe out from the right. Breathe in from the right nostril and exhale from the left. This is one round of nadi Shodhan pranayama. Repeat for at least 5 -10 minutes.
Wim Hof has developed special breathing exertions that keep his body in optimal condition and in complete control in the most extreme conditions. The breathing technique is first and foremost premised on inhaling normally for a few breaths, then holding, exhaling holding. Repeat with the same cycle.
Below is the video I’ve been following daily for a week and already can feel so much improvement in my mental state.
Wim Hof Method Guided Breathing for Beginners (3 Rounds Slow Pace)
Control Your Breath Control Your Life Control
Our emotional state affects our breath, but we need not be in thrall to our emotions. We can avoid being controlled by people and situations by learning to control our breath. By controlling our breath we can effectively control our mind and thus our lives.
There are three important factors to remember are:
1) Positioning of the tongue at the roof of the mouth 2) Keeping your mouth shut and breathing through the nose 3) Using your diaphragm and breathing into the stomach 4) Learning to hold your breath.
Most importantly, these practices must be done regularly to derive optimal benefits. Regular practice is the core of transformational change.
I really wish I had tried to incorporate breathing practice earlier. I had this block that breathing techniques involve taking deep breaths which I have always found difficult to do due to my scoliosis. However, since I began following the Wim Hof method I realize it is not so. All these breathing techniques are easy to do and give positive results in a very short time. Pick one that works for you and breathe your way to better health and well-being.
Disclaimer: Do not do this if you have hypertension, heart disease, epilepsy, or a serious. This article was written for informational purposes, based on my own personal experience. Kindly consult your medical practitioner for advice.
Image Source: Pexels
Coherent Breathing – Wilfried Ehrmann
Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve Your Mental and Physical Health – Belisa Vranich