Breathing is one of the most fundamental things we do in a day. We take it for granted that we do it right, yet something so obviously simple has many myths on what is right and wrong.
The following are the top eight myths about breathing:
1. I don’t need to think about how I breathe, because it’s automatic.
Just because breathing is an involuntary process doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. The reality is that more than 90 percent of us are using less than 50 percent of our breathing capacity. We are inhaling shallowly, which does not fuel our blood and bodies with sufficient oxygen and energy.
On the flip side, our exhalations release only a small amount of carbon dioxide, keeping toxins and wastes in our blood streams and organs. Shallow breathing has been linked with degenerative disease, poor quality of life and an early onset of death.
2. Breathing can’t improve how I feel.
Irregular, rapid breathing can intensify stress, anxiety, emotional distress, tension and poor posture. Due to higher levels of carbon dioxide in the body, fatigue and depression can also become chronic issues.
3. I would know if something was wrong with my breathing.
Most people don’t notice their breathing is compromised until 70 percent of the functioning capacity of their lungs is gone. Unless you do regular testing to see how long you can hold your breath or do regular breathing exercises that require you to inhale or exhale for a certain length of time, you may not realize any change in your breathing until it becomes a severe issue.
4. There are other health concerns I need to focus on before I should think about breathing.
Of all the self-help techniques available, breathing properly is one of the best ways you can improve emotional and physical health, decrease stress and minimize aging. Shortness of breath is the beginning spiral downward to aging, ill health, weakness and depression. Learning how to breathe better and actively remembering to do it is a great foundation to help with any other health concerns you may have.
5. Animals in the wild don’t need to learn how to breathe better and neither do I.
Animals in the wild do not maintain the same chronic stress levels that we do. They may have small bursts of “stress” when they are in a predator-prey situation, but for the most part, they are relaxed and aware of their surroundings.
In today’s society, the majority of people have restricted breathing patterns and carry chronic muscular, emotional and physical tension. Poor breathing patterns increase our already elevated stress levels and we need to retrain ourselves to breathe more fully and deeply.
6. Breathing primarily into my chest is better than breathing through my belly.
Chest breathing does not shift the diaphragm, so your lungs will not have as much room to fill. Chest breathing also does not engage the lower part of the lungs, which has a much greater volume than the upper part of the lungs. Chest breathing also tends to increase the respiration rate because it involves a quicker and shallower breath. This means that oxygen levels (tidal volume) will be lower and there will be less time for carbon dioxide to leave the body.
Chest breathing is associated with light-headedness, heart palpitations, weakness, numbness, tingling, agitation and overall shortness of breath. People with issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety disorders or phobias will have many of their symptoms exacerbated if they are chest breathers.
7. Breathing through my mouth is better than breathing through my nose.
Long-term, chronic mouth breathing can be adverse to your health. It can lead to higher levels of inflammation and mucus, which can lead to asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses. Mouth breathing can lead to snoring and sleep apnea, which deprive the body of oxygen at night resulting in low energy levels and can possibly lead to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and cancer. Damage to the heart muscle, inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, psoriasis, eczema and many other problems may occur because of mouth breathing at night. Breathing through the mouth during the day will further exacerbate health problems.
It is recommended to breathe through the nose to warm and filter the air. Breathing through the nose also makes the lungs work harder and more effectively as compared to breathing through the mouth. Breathing through the nose promotes effective nitric oxide utilization, which can help to kill microorganisms in the lungs and dilate (open) blood vessels and internal organs to allow more oxygen to enter. Overall, breathing through the nose can improve blood oxygenation by two times compared to mouth breathers. This can result in energizing the body. Nasal breathing can also reduce stress and calm the mind.
Of course, if you are suffering from allergies or sinuses or any restriction of the nasal passages, breathing through the mouth is a perfectly acceptable alternative. But the benefits of nasal breathing and disadvantages of mouth breathing cannot be understated.
8. If I don’t breathe “right,” there’s nothing I can do to change that.
There are many different types of breathing exercises you can do to draw awareness to your breath and to begin breathing more deeply and fully. One of the breathing exercises we developed is called Qi Breathing, which will attune you to your natural breathing depth and internal energy and help you to increase both over time. It is designed to give you more energy, clarity and peace.
Use the following steps to begin Qi Breathing:
- State an intention for your breathing practice, such as to get energized or motivated, to be calmer or to be more focused.
- Inhale and exhale deeply, yet quickly through the nose, so that your inhalations and exhalations are the same length of time, approximately one second each. Visualize the breath moving in a circle, up the back of the spine and down the front of the spine. This circular rhythm will help your Qi, or internal energy to circulate and increase rather than to remain stagnant in your body.
- Incorporate a rocking movement with your breathing. On the exhalation, rock forward (toward your knees). On the inhalation, rock backward (upright). Make sure that your focus is on the inhalation and drawing in energy rather than on the exhalation.
- Bring your awareness fully to the breath and maintain your focus there to allow your mind to quiet. This can bring you into a deeply peaceful and blissful state.
Continue for a total of three minutes for a shortened version of Qi Breathing.
The Edge Magazine
By Deanna Reiter and Troy Stende