A Few Facts About Breathing

Every single person breathes, all day, everyday.  It’s fundamental to life. There is an urgency of the next breath.

 While it might make sense that elite athletes or people in high-pressure jobs could profit from some sort of extra breathing training, surely it’s nonsense to suggest the breathing  itself is a root cause of problems in the wider population.

Functional breathing training is relevant for everyone 

Breathing pattern disorders affect 9.5 % of the adult population. In people with asthma, it’s 29% and 75% of people with anxiety have dysfunctional breathing

  • Most of what we know about breathing is wrong. For example we believe that oxygen is good and carbon dioxide is bad. The reality … CO2 is essential for good health and vital to oxygenation of the cells. Without carbon dioxide, the body would be starved of oxygen, whether or not oxygen is available in the blood.
  • People are often urged to take ‘deep breath’. But without an understanding  of what  deep breath actually is and  how to explain it, they  may  inadvertently be  causing more harm than good.
  • One of the most common breathing pattern disorders is something called chronic hypertension ventilation,. Forget the image of someone puffing furiously into a paper bag – this is long-term over -breathing that causes imbalances in the blood chemistry and factors in many pathological conditions- read it again–  breathing patterns are an  underlying factor in a lot of illnesses .
  • Chronic hyperventilation tends to involve fast, upper chest breathing. This triggers the sympathetic nervous system’s ‘fight or flight’ response leading to chronic stress (and many associated physical and mental health disorders).
  • Breathing should be through the nostrils, and rarely if ever through the mouth. Breathing through the mouth has been likened to trying to eat through your nose!
  • Slow breathing at six breaths per minute has been found to optimise heart rate variability, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, barorefexes, gas exchange in the lungs, and to activate the calming power of the parasympathetic nervous system by the vagus nerve.
  • Sleep disordered breathing is considered to be a public health epidemic causing the economy millions in poor productivity and  sick days,  and contributing to road accidents and early mortality.
  • Conditions including asthma, diabetes and epilepsy can often be successfully managed by increasing CO2 levels. In the case of epilepsy, hyperventilation has been proven to trigger seizures and  in panic disorders, blood CO2 levels are directly related to the panic threshold.
  • Breathing exercises can help with problems as wide-ranging as performance anxiety, sleep, stress, poor digestion, heart health, hypertension and cognition.
  • It is possible to maintain nasal breathing even during intensive exercise such as running.

Acknowledgement: Patrick McKeown, The Oxygen Advantage

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