How Breathing Can Impact Women’s Health

Do you experience PMS or having a difficult menopause?

Are you asthmatic and notice that you are breathless and not always sure why?

Do you suffer with pelvic pain or fibromyalgia?

All of these symptoms could be related to the way that you breathe.

In this interview, Tracey Howes explains how hormone level change the way that we breathe and what we can do to redress the balance and reduce any unwanted symptoms.

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What Is Discussed In This Video With Tracey Howes

Hedshot of Tracey Howes Functional Breathwork Instructor She is smiling looking straight at the camera. You can jsut see the straps of her green top. Behind her is the sea, calm with only gentle ripples on the surface

Tracey Howes is a functional breathwork instructor and freediver based on the south coast of England.

Being a freediver means she goes diving without the aid of any additional breathing support. So knowing how we breathe and improving her capacity for holding her breath is somewhat important. That led her to explore more about breathing and the importance of how we breathe.

She trained with Oxygen Advantage and works with all kinds of individuals including athletes, those training for a big event or just generally want to get the most from their exercise

The article below is a summary of the interview. Please watch the full interview for all of the valuable information that Tracey shares.

What Is Functional Breathwork?

Firstly just to give a brief over view of Functional Breathwork is it covers:

  • Blood chemistry, in other words, how carbon dioxide and oxygen interact in our blood
  • Biomechanics of the body. So how our bodies move when we breathe in terms of our breathing muscles as well as our skeleton and the impact that that has on the nervous system and the brain.

When we breathe correctly, in a better way it benefits your health in a number of ways. 

My first question for Tracey was

We’re All Human’s, Surely Men & Women Breathe In The Same Way?

Interestingly the answer to that question is no.

Women actually have lower ventilation than men because of the smaller size of our respiratory systems and our diaphragms, in fact, it’s 9% shorter. So that has a major impact on how we breathe. It’s the reason why men generally can hold their breath for longer because they have a larger lung capacity.

The Impact Hormones Have On Our Breathing

Photo of an older lady with shoulder length blonde wavy hair wearing a white top. She's looking in a mirror. We are looking over her shoulder and in her refelction in the mirror you can see she has her hand on her upper chest and she's looking concerned. This is in an article about how breathing affects womens health

Hormones have a major impact on women’s breathing as we move through life, pregnancy, the monthly menstrual cycle, moving into menopause.

Progesterone, the sex hormone reduces over time and also fluctuates during menstruation and pregnancy. Lower progesterone has an impact on our breathing, even though we may not consciously be aware of it our heart rate and breathing rate will increase causing us to hyperventilate.  You may even feel like you’re not getting enough oxygen into your lungs. 

This increase in breathing can cause your pain perception will increase, an increase in fatigue increases, and you may feel more anxious or stressed during the day. All because of lower progesterone levels.  In fact, your carbon dioxide levels can drop by 25%, which can cause these side effects and contribute to PMS

Breathing and Menstruation.

During the menstrual cycle, progesterone will stimulate breathing more during days 10 to 22 of your cycle, which is called the luteal phase. This means you can be mildly hyperventilating

“Hormones have a major impact on women’s breathing as we move through life, pregnancy, the monthly menstrual cycle, moving into menopause.

Progesterone, the sex hormone will reduce over time, and that also fluctuates during menstruation and during pregnancy. When that happens that has an impact on our breathing, and we actually tend to hyperventilate, even though we may not consciously be aware of it.

Our heart rate, breath, and breathing rate will increase and the impact of progesterone changes in the body will indicate, maybe feeling like you want to take in more air like you’re not getting enough into the lungs.

Your pain perception will increase, fatigue increases, and you may feel more anxious or stressed during the day.

By knowing this you can put breathing practise in place to counteract these effects”

Tracey Howes

Are You Asthmatic?

There may be times that you notice you feel you are more breathless and need your inhaler more.  Could it be that it corresponds with this part of your menstrual cycle?

By becoming more self-aware that your body is having a real physiological response to your hormone levels you can put preventative measures in place by changing your breathing patterns. You can practise these breathing exercises to slow your breathing rate down, bring yourself back, and re-balance the nervous system.

Woman out in the woods about to use an inhaler to show exercise induced asthma that can be helped with breathwork. She is wearing a purple and black speckled long sleeved sports top and is holding the inhaler up towards her mouth in her right hand. Her mouth is open as she's about to take a breath.

Breathing and Fibromyalgia.

Dysfunctional breathing aggravates the pain associated with fibromyalgia, particularly the pelvic floor area. Research has shown that implementing functional breathing pattern training can reduce pain levels.   This can take 3- 6 months to reduce the impact, but it can reduce the impact and help your body to heal, that’s the key.

Breathing and the Menopause.

On the left is the white shape of a woman outlines in a purple glow. to the right is the word menopause written in white with a purple outline. Surrounding this are the names of loads of symptoms associated with the menopause all written in different colours. Including Body Temperature, Depression, Poor Sleep, Perspire... The background is a purple haze with wisps over it. This is for an artcile about breathing for better womens health

There’s a lot of research in this area.  A recent study done in 2020 found a strong connection between early menopause and reduced lung function.

So actually, improving your lung function through these functional breathing exercises is crucial to improving your lung health for longevity

Chronic Pelvic Pain and Breathing

The pelvic floor and the diaphragm are structurally connected by the psoas muscle, which is our main hip flexor muscle.  Any dysfunction here is going to impact the stability of the spine and how we breathe.

Women with chronic pelvic pain will typically breathe in the upper chest, so normalising imbalances in the joints and tissues, along with breathing pattern training, can relieve and potentially eliminate chronic pelvic floor pain. This is based on evidence and medical research trials that have been done where breathing techniques can be implemented next to clinical treatment to help women.

An illustration of the psoas muscle showing how it is attached from the last thoracic vertebrae the lumbars and runs all the way down to the top of the thighs on the inside of the leg in an article about breathing for womens health and to avoid pelvic pain

How Much Of A Time Commitment Is It?

Focusing on nasal breathing is step one, avoiding mouth breathing. But then, when people work with me and we do these very specific exercises, they aren’t taking hours and hours.

You can 2.5 minutes to 15 minutes a day. But again, it’s what motivates you to want to make those changes. And essentially, it’s a lifestyle change. So if you can incorporate tiny little micro habits into your day today, the long-term benefits are phenomenal

So if this information has meant that you are curious to find out more about Tracey Howes and her course options you can find out more from any of the means below

Tracey Offers:

Taster sessions which are 60 minutes on zoom once a month.

3 week programme working in small groups.

She also does corporate work, wellness retreats, health and wellbeing festivals and works with other healthcare practitioners.

Other Interviews With Tracey Howes

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