I stopped running some years ago, but now I decided to start running again. So I searched the internet on running and found some articles talking about the right breathing. I had many questions, for example, is it better to start running with an open mouth or a closed one?
I have been practicing yoga for years and some of the yoga techniques I never understood. For example, why should it be helpful to hold the breath for some time? Why is my yoga teacher always telling me to close my mouth? I became more and more interested in the topic. And I read a lot of books on breathing and tried some breathing exercises.
While I was reading more and more about the importance of breathing the right way, my whole belief system around this topic changed!
Hypnotists start their session often with the words: Take a deep breath… I always thought that a powerful breath is good and healthy. My belief was that you can’t have enough oxygen.
To make it clear from the beginning: To breathe through the nose into your belly without any or with minimal movement is the healthy way to breath in a relaxed and wholesome way.
The next time you lay down, look at how your body is moving while you are breathing. Start to breathe slowly and soundlessly, without any effort or movement in your whole body. I would describe it as gentle breathing into the belly.
Chronic hyperventilation or over-breathing simply means the habit of breathing a volume of air greater than that which your body requires.
Over the centuries we have altered our environment so dramatically that many of us have forgotten our innate way of breathing. The process of breathing has been changed by chronic stress, modern lifestyles, unhealthy diets, overheated homes, and lack of fitness. All of these contribute to poor breathing habits.
These, in turn, contribute to lethargy, weight gain, sleeping problems, respiratory conditions, and heart disease.
The biggest obstacle to your health and fitness is a rarely identified problem: chronic over-breathing.
We can breathe two to three times more air than required without knowing it. To help determine if you are over-breathing, see how many of these questions you answer with ‘Yes’:
- Do you sometimes breathe through your mouth as you go about your daily activities?
- Do you breathe through your mouth during deep sleep? (If you are not sure, do you wake up with a dry mouth in the morning?)
- Do you snore or hold your breath during sleep?
- Can you visibly notice your breathing during rest? To find out, take a look at your breathing right now. Spend a minute observing the movements of your chest or abdomen as you take each breath. The more movement you see, the heavier you breathe.
- Do you sometimes hear your breathing during rest?
- When you observe your breathing, do you see more movement in your chest than in your abdomen?
- Do you regularly sigh throughout the day? (While one sigh every now and then is not an issue, regular sighing is enough to maintain chronic over-breathing.)
Answering ‘Yes’ to some or all of the questions above suggests a tendency to over-breathe.
The subconscious habit of over-breathing has hit epidemic proportions all across the industrialized world and it’s highly detrimental to our health.
Chronic over-breathing leads to loss of health, poor fitness, and compromised performance and also contributes to many ailments including anxiety, asthma, fatigue, insomnia, heart problems, and even obesity.
It may seem strange that such a disparate range of complaints can be caused by or worsened by over-breathing, but breathing influences literally every aspect of our health.
We need oxygen and carbon dioxide (CO2)
Our body needs oxygen so that muscles are able to work efficiently.
It is, however, a common misconception that breathing in a larger amount of air increases the oxygenation of the blood. It is physiologically impossible to increase the oxygen saturation of the blood in this way because the blood is almost always already fully saturated. It would be like pouring more water into a glass that is already filled to the brim.
The idea of taking bigger breaths to take in more oxygen is akin to telling an individual, who is already eating enough food to provide their daily caloric needs, that they need to eat more.
Until now we have been indoctrinated with the ‘benefits’ of taking deep breaths by well-meaning stress counselors, yoga practitioners, physiotherapists, and sports coaches, not to mention the Western media. And it’s easy to see why this belief is perpetuated: Taking a large breath can actually feel good, even if it can actually be bad for you.
Most of us will think of carbon dioxide (CO2) as a poison, something we have to get rid of.
But we really need it, because only with the help of CO2 do our cells get the oxygen they need from our blood.
CO2 is the doorway that allows oxygen to reach our muscles. If the door is only partially open, then only some of the oxygen at our disposal passes through, and we find ourselves gasping during exercise, often with our limbs cramping. If, on the other hand, the door is wide open, oxygen flows through the doorway and we can sustain physical activity longer and at a higher intensity.
Carbon dioxide is an end product of the natural process of breaking down the fats and carbohydrates we eat. CO2 is returned from tissues and cells to the lungs via blood vessels, and any excess is exhaled.
Scientific evidence clearly shows that carbon dioxide is an essential element not just in regulating our breathing, optimizing our blood flow, and releasing oxygen to our muscles, but also in maintaining the right pH levels.
Our body’s relationship with carbon dioxide determines how healthy we can be, affecting nearly every aspect of how our body functions. Better breathing allows carbon dioxide to ensure that all the interlocking parts of our system work together in harmony, allowing us to achieve our maximum potential in sporting performance, endurance, and strength.
If you are interested in getting into this more deeply, take a look at the list of books I recommend.
Always breathe through your nose!
One very important reason for breathing through your nose has to do with maintaining the correct balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood.
What changes first: The breath or your emotions?
Almost everyone is intuitively aware of a connection between breathing and emotion. We know that when we are agitated and anxious, our breath is rapid and shallow and that when we’re relaxed and content, our breath is slow and deep.
We might be somewhat less aware of it, however, that when we compel our breath to be rapid and shallow, we become agitated and anxious, and when we compel our breath to be slow and deep, we promote relaxation and contentment. Breathing is the only essential physiological function that is both under voluntary and involuntary control.
Let the breath manage your emotions.
Here are two easy exercises you can use to feel calmer and more relaxed.
1. Manage the moment with the breathing of joy
To elicit joy, smile (or do as if) and exhale and continue to breathe slowly and deeply through the nose; your breathing is very regular and your ribcage relaxed. Deep, slow breathing into the belly is strong medicine for anxiety, fear, and anger. Deep, full breathing often accompanies confidence.
When we cry, for example, we usually gulp air into our upper chest. It is almost impossible to cry and breathe into our belly at the same time. Belly breathing loosens the grip of feeling. Return to upper chest breathing and the emotion and the tears will return. In the midst of strong emotion, the breathing of joy can be utilized to ease emotional pain and stress.
2. Get emotionally balanced with the breath
Does the breathing pattern cause the emotion or does the emotion cause the breathing pattern? Studies indicate that emotions may be caused, at least in part, by the way, we breathe.
Do you like to experience calm energy? This is an exercise I give to my clients and for many of them it works. Do it as often as possible such as 4-10 times per day for 3-5 breaths.
Breathe in for a count of four,
hold for a count of seven,
exhale for a count of eight.
This exercise keeps your mind busy, by thinking and doing. Enjoy it.
Do you like to read more about the topic? Here are some recommendations.
Brule, Dan. Just Breathe: Mastering Breathwork for Success in Life, Love, Business, and Beyond
Patrick McKeown. Oxygen Advantage, The simple, scientifically proven Breathing Techniques for a healthier, slimmer, fast, and fitter you
Philippot, P. & Blairy. Change How You Feel: Change How You Feel, Respiratory Feedback in the Generation of Emotion, Cognition, and Emotion