4-minute read (60-80 breaths)
Just like everyone poops (more on this in another blog), everyone breathes. We do it subconsciously, so what is there to talk about?
There is a lot to say, actually! Life starts with a breath and ends with a breath and isn’t possible without it. Unlike food, water and sleep, more than a few minutes without oxygen and our brain starts to shut down.
If you like free and easy health tips, this is the place to start!
Your Lungs are Large & In Charge
First off, did you know that your lungs start just above your collarbone and end at the edge of your ribs? They take up a lot of space which is a BIG clue as to their importance.
Something else to think about is that many of us do not utilize the full breadth of our lungs for deeper breathing. There is diaphragmatic breathing, also important and also forgotten, but getting the breath to the base of your lungs is important. One method of filling your lungs and strengthening your diaphragm is the 4-7-8 Breathing Method or if you want to venture beyond, follow Wim Hof and all of his challenging breathing techniques. Wim Hof breathing tutorial by Wim Hof
Stop Holding Your Breath
We breathe subconsciously and we also hold our breath subconsciously. Did you know that the carbon dioxide that accumulates while holding our breath is soluble and crosses the blood-brain barrier? Our brains, highly dependent on energy and quite sensitive to changes in pH. Think of how lightheaded you feel when you hold your breath, and that’s how quickly your brain senses the change. If this happens too often, it can cause people to faint, have seizures and/or suffer brain injuries.
But why do we hold our breath or breathe shallowly?
Stress and other threats are common culprits but it could also be due to tissue or joint restrictions in the thoracic ribs, spine, diaphragm, abdomen, chest, neck and shoulder muscles. Picture an elderly person who is hunched over because of postural rigidity, joint stiffness and weakness. It is difficult for them to take deep breaths. This leads to lack of oxygen to all our tissues and organs and can lead to temporarily impaired physical and psychological function and if it’s frequent can become permanent dysfunction.
Think fight or flight.
When we are relaxed and our mind is at ease, we typically take slow, deep belly breaths but when danger presents, our breathing automatically switches to quick, shallow, neck and shoulder movement-type breathing.
That’s fine for the short term, occasional threats of danger are actually good for us. But if the stress/threat persists (perceived or real) or occurs often, we are vulnerable to it leaving us in constant fight or flight mode. This can change our breathing habits that become those shorter, shallow breaths (even after the stress has passed).
The brain doesn’t necessarily know the danger has passed if our breathing patterns indicate otherwise. We have to either believe (put our mind at ease) the threat is gone for our body to begin to relax and efficiently breathe or we must make a conscious effort to breathe efficiently to reset our fundamental breathing pattern .
There’s a reason our friends and family (bosses, even) tell us “don’t hold your breath” when there’s an unlikely possibility of something happening.
Nose Breathing vs. Mouth Breathing
This is one of those things that can be debated until the cows (or chickens and eggs) come home. Just like the egg has had an identity crisis between being a healthy food and a cholesterol-causing monster, some will advocate for one type of breathing over the other. For whatever it’s worth, this is our take.
You know those pesky nose hairs that some of us have to trim as we age? Those lovely nose hairs filter viruses, bacteria and so much more that can get in our lungs. And nose breathing is also important for fighting viruses and bacteria thanks to our nasal passages’ ability to make nitric oxide. It’s one of the most amazing things our nose can do when we breathe through it.
Nitric oxide (NO) is this essential little molecule required for our overall health. It signals the blood vessels to chillax, allowing them to expand to allow blood, nutrients, and oxygen to flow freely to every part of your body. But when you don’t breathe through your nose, your health can become compromised. Therefore, it’s important to nose breathe to obtain and maintain optimal levels of nitric oxide in your body.
Breathing through the nose also ensures that air you breathe will have enough moisture and the right temperature for your lungs, promoting good lung function.
That being said, at rest, we want you to breathe through your nose (in and out) as often as possible. But when practicing deep breathing techniques, pacing for prolonged activity or exercise, we innately should inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth.
Full-on mouth breathing is inevitable and normal when there is a more rigorous activity involved or a need to release stress, such as when you take a big sigh or with high-intensity sports, workouts or any cardiovascular (wipe you out in no time) demand. But on the other hand, chronic mouth breathing can result in an array of metabolic disorders. Literally, from head to toe.
In children, mouth breathing can cause crooked teeth, facial deformities, or poor growth. In adults, chronic mouth breathing can cause bad breath and gum disease. It can also worsen symptoms of other illnesses and issues, such as chronic allergies, hay fever, chronic or recurring sinus infections, asthma, chronic stress and anxiety, just to name a few.
Even while sleeping, it is important to breathe through your nose. Yes, many of us are snorers, aka mouth breathers at night. You may have heard some experts recommend that you tape your mouth shut. A tactic useful for everyone and especially the snorers. We recommend it to all of our clients! Just please don’t confuse mouth taping as a primary form of medical treatment, it is more a prevention mechanism or health benefit to help improve your overall health.
Just Breathe (Consciously)
While it’s true that breathing is a subconscious function, it’s also true that we can (and should) bring consciousness to it. As our yogis, meditators and breathing coaches can attest, there are health benefits to conscious breathing!
When illnesses that challenge the lungs such as COPD and COVID-19 arise, emploring full connected, diaphragmatic breathing can do a body good. But you also have to work your lungs as you do the muscles in your body to keep the tip-top shape.
Conscious Breathing Tactics
- Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing Techniques
- Relax and Listen to yourself breathing (rate and depth)
- Mouth taping for sleeping or forming a nasal breathing habit with activities.
- Sing out loud, from your GUT!
- Shout for JOY (like at a sports game)
Benefits of Conscious Breathing
- Detoxify/remove toxins
- Strengthens your immune system
- Increases energy/vitality
- Improves your respiratory lung capacity
- Strengthens your lymphatic system
- Releases muscle tension (something we all have!)
- Slows aging (anti-aging hormones are secreted)
- Improved mental state and emotional well being
- Improved digestion
- Strengthens your cardiovascular system
- Improved sleep and reduced snoring
- Higher awareness/consciousness
Are you thoroughly impressed with how awesome our nose and lungs are?? Could breathing be the answer to world peace?! We can’t answer that but we do feel it has a huge impact on both your everyday life and long-term health.
If you are so inclined, check out the book Breath by James Nestor. In it, the author documents stories of improved athletic performance, rejuvenated internal organs, snoring cessation, asthma improvements (and other autoimmune diseases) and even the straightening of scoliotic spines.
There is no doubt that breathing correctly is not to be underestimated and we hope you never breathe the same again!