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The Lost Art Of Good Breathing For Better Health And Life

Written by: Alexia Clonda, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

The COVID pandemic has highlighted more than ever that breathing and mindset are keys to better health, improving quality of life, and so much more.

The number of articles in the media over the past three years on these two subjects alone has increased 10-fold, along with more scientific studies on the hows and whys of their importance to health and quality of life. Science based benefits of breathing


Recently, researchers at Stanford University concluded:


“Breathing fuels the brain, and every other part of the body. And so by extension, it has a direct and profound impact on the mind and our basic psychological experience. We’re learning there’s more to the story than simply that we breathe; in terms of psychological effects, how we breathe is just as important. Notably, the yoga, religious and philosophical traditions always include some form of controlled, intentional breathing practices as part of meditation, incantations, and prayer.


The pattern and depth of breathing alter the physiological impact on oxygenation level, heart rate, ventilation, and blood pressure. These come with health implications. Patients with hypertension will see a decrease in blood pressure from slow breathing compared with high-frequency breathing counts. For cognition, attention, and learning, we’ve begun to understand there are differences between nasal breathing and mouth breathing. Nasal breathing alters activation patterns in the brain’s amygdala and hippocampus, while mouth breathing does not.


It’s clear that the way in which we breathe matters a great deal.” Stanford study


So, ask yourself, is your breathing and mindset hindering or helping you?

Breath is Life


Our breath is the central key to life and energy.

Breathing, we just do it, right? Without even thinking about it. So much so that we take it for granted that we are doing it properly, because we don’t learn it and are not taught it.


Most people assume their breathing must be ok because they are alive. Wrong! This is a myth!


After years of research, science now tells us that correct breathing is vital for normal body functioning, and there is such a thing as dysfunctional breathing.


Breathing is the link between mind and body, spirit and matter, and the conscious and subconscious mind. Breath is a force and a tool.


Every psychological, emotional and physiological state has an associated or corresponding breathing pattern. How we breathe when we are peaceful, calm and happy is different from how we breathe when we are sad, angry or upset. When your state of being changes, your breathing pattern changes. It’s a two-way street: when you change your breathing pattern, you change your state! We can use the breath to hack and connect into our nervous system, our brain, and even our immune system. We can use our breath to change and choose our state of being at any particular point in time. Breathing is key, along with mindset. How does breathing affect your brain?


When we can control our breathing, we can control our awareness, our focus, our energy, and our life force. Breathing is a behavior. Breath control is self-control. Breath awareness is self-awareness. When the breath flows fully and freely, our inate and natural creative and healing energies also flow fully and freely.


Breathing – We just do it!


Breathing – it’s the first thing we do when we are born – the breath of life – and we keep on doing it until we take that last breath out when we die.


An average adult living to the age of 70 will breathe roughly 20,000 times daily; that’s over 7 million times per year and around 511 million in that lifetime. That’s a lot of breathing!


The quality of those breaths is key to your health, your body, your mind, and your fitness and sports performance. Breathing occurs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year! Breathing is an ongoing, habitual cycle, a continuum in and for our life.


How are you breathing right now? Is it easy or hard? Are you taking deep or shallow breaths? Are your chest and shoulders moving? Are you breathing through your nose or mouth?


In what part of your body are you breathing into?

People breathe in either of two ways; through their nose or their mouth. Normal and correct breathing, in and out, is through the nose into your belly. This is called functional breathing. The nose is made for breathing and smelling. Mouth breathing into your chest is called dysfunctional breathing. The mouth is made for eating and speaking.


You often hear someone saying to another take a deep breath, and that someone then sucking in as much air as they can through their mouth into their chest.

This is a common thing to do because when we think about breathing, we tend to imagine our chest is filling up with air because our lungs live in the chest, inside the ribcage, so breathing into the chest makes sense. Right? Wrong! This is a myth and incorrect.

Air is coming in, but it’s coming into the top part of our lungs, not into the bottom where it needs to go for proper oxygenation to occur so the oxygen can be utilized by the body correctly and efficiently for correct body functioning. To breathe the air in properly and correctly, it must be done through the nose, breathing into the belly; this way the diaphragm is used, which is the major breathing muscle. By not using the breathing muscle, it atrophies, just like any other muscle of the body. And as the saying goes, don’t use it - lose it, and it stops functioning as it is meant to.


Hidden Over-Breathing

Over-breathing is breathing in excess of what the body needs. This over-breathing is called hyperventilation. It can be seen (when someone has a panic attack) or unseen (when someone constantly breathes through their mouth over long periods of time) This is called hidden hyperventilation, and we don’t even know we are doing it!


Many scientific studies on hyperventilation and hyperventilation syndrome have reported the dangers of mouth deep breathing. This type of breathing decreases the levels of CARBON DIOXIDE in the blood, causing an imbalance. Carbon Dioxide is needed in the body to be and stay alive and is essential for maintaining homeostasis. Homeostasis is the appropriate balnced and stable conditions inside the body that are necessary to support life and maintain a healthy body. These studies have also shown that many illnesses and diseases can arise from over-breathing over long periods of time. Dysfunctional breathing


It’s estimated that a large number of the population today are not aware they have a breathing dysfunction, such as chest breathing, mouth breathing and over-breathing. This breathing brings a lot of air in, but that air is not being utilized by the body and limits the oxygen going into the cells and tissues, reducing blood oxygen levels in the body and opening the door to health issues.


Most of these people believe they have normal or even good breathing. People think mouth breathing is normal and ok because they have been doing it this way for a long time.


“More breathing in through the mouth means less oxygen in the body’s cells.” Imagine those hundreds of trillions of cells in your body not getting enough oxygen to do their job properly.


Mouth breathing is the hidden villain. Why? Because it’s causing OVER-BREATHING – taking too much air in. This is Dysfunctional Breathing – Hyperventilation in its hidden form.


You’ve heard people say, “Take a deep breath in”. This is actually NOT helping you at all; it’s just reinforcing a bad pattern, a bad habit. In fact, it contributes to and could cause the problem! The scientific data shows that the body cannot efficiently utilize the volume of air coming in and proper oxygenation cannot occur. Hence less oxygen to the cells, tissues, organs, and the brain.


The body’s main breathing muscle is the diaphragm, which sits just above the belly and below the lungs. This muscle is supposed to draw the air into your lungs. When you are breathing with your diaphragm, the air is drawn into and reaches into the lower half of the lungs where oxygenation actually occurs, not in the chest, where most people think it happens.

When you breathe through the nose, it’s easier to bring the air right down into the diaphragm, remembering that the nose, not the mouth, is the body’s natural instrument to bring air into the body.

The diaphragm is a muscle, and like any muscle in the body, if you don’t use it, you lose it. The way to keep that muscle active is to breathe into it. Simple. Breathing into the belly using your nose. Likewise, with the nose, don’t use it, lose it, it gets blocked up, more and more, and you can’t breathe through your nose.

The nose is part of the respiratory system, while the mouth is part of the digestive system.


Breathing is an unusual and unique body function because it’s an involuntary and voluntary function, we do it automatically, but we can control it.


Other automatic and involuntary functions are heartbeat and digestion. These functions occur without conscious mind influence, and being involuntary, they are managed in the vast processing system of the subconscious mind.


But breathing can be managed voluntarily, in the conscious mind, meaning that we can take control and deliberately change the way we breathe.


We can make our breathing fast or slow, shallow or deep, or we can even choose to stop breathing altogether.


Since we’re breathing all the time, we take for granted we can control our breathing. Because we can control it, we can change it. We can change how we breathe therefore we can change how breathing affects our bodies.


Conscious control of the breath is a practice that is thousands of years old. Most forms of mindfulness and meditation will have you focus on your breath as a way of keeping you centred and calm. Breath meditation to relieve stress


Try this simple exercise to become aware of how you are breathing right now.

Have you noticed how you have been breathing whilst reading this article?


Just sit back in a chair and become aware of your breathing. Breathe just as you would normally, in and out, in and out, for about 30 seconds.


What did you notice? Are you breathing through your mouth or nose? Is your chest moving? Are your shoulders moving? Is your belly moving? What parts of your body are moving?


When you know how you are doing something, you have control over it, but the first thing you need to do is become aware of it. By becoming aware of your breathing, you can now focus on improving and bettering it.


We all have a Breathing Rate


Both breathing and ventilation rates are important measurements to understand how well or not well your body is functioning.


The breathing rate is the number of breaths taken in one minute.


Recent studies suggest that an accurate recording of breathing rate is very important in predicting medical and health issues. Studies also suggest that measurements of breathing rate are not done as often as they should be, so it’s been called the “ignored vital sign”.


At rest, normal breathing should be rhythmic and flowing, neither seen, heard, or laboured. A breathing rate of around 6-10 breaths per minute is the optimal breathing rate for normal body functioning.


If you are breathing more or less than this, your breathing could be an issue and needs correction. There could also be known and unknown health issues.


A low or high breathing rate is a message from your body that something is wrong. Studies in the 2000s have linked a number of illnesses and health issues directly to breathing rates.


The ventilation rate is the volume of air, measured in litres per minute you are breathing in.

At rest, breathing in around six litres per minute is considered optimal for good health and normal body functioning.


If you have dysfunctional breathing, both your breathing and ventilation measurements will be out of the normal range: Respiration rate + 6-10 breaths per minute and ventilation 6 litres per minute.

Think about this. Breathing is cyclery, rhythmic and flowing; it’s a pattern that occurs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, no matter what we are doing. We breathe 24 hours a day for life.


Please note: When we are active, our breathing rate goes up proportionately, for whatever we are doing at that time, to meet the body’s needs over that period of time; that’s normal.


But if your breathing and ventilation rates at rest are not within their normal range, it’s possible that you are over-breathing and taking in way too much air when you are at rest and when active. When active, the activity will also have a breathing and ventilation rate range.

Your Breathing Rate

Try this simple exercise to measure your breathing rate.

Sitting down, get comfortable, relax and just breathe as you normally would. Time yourself for a minute and count the number of breaths you take. One breath is counted as breathing in and out – an inhalation and an exhalation.

How many breaths did you take? Does the number surprise you? Are you in the normal range of 6-10 breaths per minute?

Mouth vs Nose Breathing


Mouth breathing is the catalyst for the diaphragm to stop working and become lazy in the process of breathing. Mouth breathing is dysfunctional breathing, or over-breathing, and has a detrimental impact on your health, especially over a period of time.

Mouth breathing:

  1. Promotes chest /shoulder /neck movement

  2. Uses more energy, leading to tiredness and coping mechanisms wearing down

  3. Your nose becomes blocked, making it even harder to nose breathe, which, in turn, the nose becomes even more blocked

  4. Can cause overbite and incorrect jaw formation in children

  5. Changes the facial structure

  6. Promotes feelings of stress and shortness of breath

  7. Lowers immunity – weakening the immune system

  8. Increases blood pressure

  9. Activates the fight or flight response – releasing the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline

  10. Weakens the core

  11. Effects our emotions

  12. Promotes hidden hyperventilation, more over-breathing

  13. Offsets the respiratory centre, which is like a thermostat in the brain, located in the medulla oblongata and pons, in the brainstem

  14. Increases free radicals in the body

  15. Decreases sleep quality


For athletes, this mouth breathing pattern and habit means you are no longer training your muscles to work efficiently, thus, your muscles will fatigue and tire more quickly.


The Nose Knows


Our nasal cavity is the only structure designed for breathing; it’s the body’s natural and normal way to breathe, to bring air into our lungs. It’s the body’s only filtration system for the air we breathe, cleaning, warming, sterilizing and filtering the air. Mouth breathing does not.


Breathing through the nose and diaphragm breathing is called functional breathing.


Nose breathing:

  1. Increases lung function

  2. Promotes diaphragm breathing

  3. Is the body’s filtration system of the air coming into our body

  4. Builds immunity and strengthens the immune system

  5. Helps to balance the acid and alkaline levels in the body

  6. Stimulates the nerve endings at the base of the lungs that are sending messages to the brain to activate the relaxation response

  7. Triggers the release of hormones, endorphins and dopamine, which elevate mood and reduce pain

  8. Helps to release stress and relax your nervous system, body and mind

  9. Helps bring the body back into balance for normal functioning

  10. Resets or keeps your breathing center, your breathing thermostat, in balance

  11. Helps to build and maintain a strong core

  12. Helps to decease blood pressure

  13. Lowers the white cell blood count, meaning less stress on the immune system

  14. Decreases levels of the stress hormones

  15. Promotes and increases better sleep quality

For athletes, nose breathing helps decrease the impact of lactic acid in muscular activity by promoting maximum delivery of oxygen to the working parts of the body. It also cuts down on dehydration and recovery time and increases oxygen intake by a min of 20%.



Please note: When we speak is the time we open our mouths. To let the breath out as we speak, we are actually breathing out when we are speaking, on the out-breath, when we need to take another breath in. It’s shut the mouth, take that next breath in through the nose. Breathing in through the nose, speaking on the out-breath.

Interesting Studies


One 2017 study published in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology, found diaphragmatic breathing can “improve cognitive performance, and reduce negative consequences of stress, in healthy adults”.


A 2018 review of the literature, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, went even further, proclaiming that “breath-control can change your life”. According to the study’s authors, researchers from the University of Pisa in Italy, slow breathing techniques trigger changes in our cardiovascular, respiratory and central nervous systems, which lead to “increased comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigor and alertness, and reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger and confusion”.


Needless to say that breathing, bad or good, will have a profound effect on all systems of the body, the mind and spirit. The power of breathing


An 18th Century discovery


In George Catlin’s book published in 1870, ‘Shut your mouth and save your life,’ he outlines his travels in Native America.


He watched with interest the amount of attention Native American mothers paid to their baby’s breathing.

He noticed how they would gently press the baby’s lips together to ensure their child was nasal breathing after feeding.


He noticed that the babies of European settlers slept with their mouths open as they gasped for air in poorly ventilated rooms.


He saw that sickness rates were far lower in Native America than that of the European settlers, concluding that there is a definitive link between health and nose and mouth breathing.


So, with all due respect, SHUT YOUR MOUTH TO BREATHE BETTER and Be Healthier


“The more you are aware of your breathing, your thoughts, feelings and self-talk, knowing that you have control of these, the greater changes you can create in your life for the better.” 7 ways conscious breathing can improve your life


Please enjoy this short meditation, you can experience for yourself the power of your breath to calm and relax yourself, enjoy!


Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


 

Alexia Clonda, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Alexia Clonda is a master, an outlier, in overcoming adversity, achieving and motivating. In spite of life threatening asthma since childhood she become an elite world ranked athlete and high performance sports coach, even near death experiences have not stopped her from dedicating her life to helping others connect with their own strengths and abilities, empowering them to be the best versions of themselves and live life to the fullest . Her Motto: Dream big, anything and everything is possible when you imagine it, feel it, speak it and believe it; for it is then you will be it and see it in your reality. Alexia Clonda is the walking testament that miracles do happen.

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