To breathe or not to breathe, there is no question. The only question is, “Do you breathe properly?”. What are the top techniques for proper breathing?
Breathing is the process of bringing air (78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen) into the lungs and exhaling the waste products of respiration (primarily 4-5% carbon dioxide). The adult respiratory rate is about 15-18 breaths per minute and is one of the four primary vital signs of life. This breathing is about 2 seconds for an inhale and 3 for an exhale. Your breathing depth and rate automatically keeps the partial pressures of carbon dioxide and oxygen in your arterial blood constant within a safe normal pH range of 7.32 to 7.42.
After exhaling, your lungs typically contain about 2.5-3 liters of air. Each new breath mixes in about 350mL of air so that the gas composition in your lungs changes slowly during the breathing cycle. This protects body tissues from large swings in oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
Proper breathing occurs through your nose for these 11 health reasons and also engages diaphragmatic breathing, using your abdominal muscles to fully inhale and exhale. An added benefit is that this technique strengthens your core and improves your posture.
Unhealthy and Dangerous Breathing
Extended over-breathing (hyperventilation) and under-breathing (hypoventilation) can move the level of carbon dioxide outside the acceptable range of pH. When this happens, proteins lose their shape and then malfunction, causing physical and mental impairment. Initial symptoms include lightheadedness and tingling in the extremities, then progress to loss of consciousness. Stress, fear and climbing to high altitudes, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory disorders can lead to hyperventilation. Drug misuse, strokes and voluntary breath-holding cause hypoventilation.
Another type of unhealthy breathing is mouth breathing. Breathing through your mouth can cause a range of health issues for children and adults including crooked teeth, facial deformities, poor growth, bad breath and gum disease. It is also linked with hyperactive attention-deficit disorder. It can also worsen symptoms of other illnesses.
Additional forms of dangerous breathing involve conditions with obstructed airways like sleep apnea which results in interrupted, stop/start, breathing. If you snore loudly, gasp for air during sleep and feel tired and irritable after a full night’s rest, please consult with your doctor. Sleep apnea can be fatal.
When you exercise, you increase your production of carbon dioxide from your active muscles. Your body detects this increase and then increases your breathing rate to expel more carbon dioxide to keep your pH in range. Your abdominal and diaphragm muscles also contract more on exhales to reduce the air capacity in your lungs further than during rest so you can adjust the gas composition more quickly.
Cold and Hot Air Proper Breathing
Cold air is drier, so wear a mask, balaclava or scarf to keep the air you breathe warm and moist.
On very hot days, stay inside and enjoy the air conditioning! Breathing in hot air can cause airway inflammation and exacerbate respiratory conditions. Plus, hot air tends to contain more air pollution. That said, make sure your indoor environment is free of artificial fragrances, mold, and dust!
Conscious Proper Breathing
You can disable Automatic breathing to a limited extent by simple choice, or to facilitate swimming, speech, singing or other vocal training.
Conscious breathing practices provide temporary relaxation and stress relief but have yet to be proven to deliver other health benefits. Many conscious breathing studies have lacked sufficient scientific rigor, lacking sufficient participation and placebo controls. Often they come from origins in yoga.
Conscious breathing can reduce hyperventilation, slowing your heart rate down and providing a sense of calmness and focus during moments of stress, anxiety and depression. It is a temporary cure for the symptom, but not likely a solution for the underlying cause.
Conscious breathing techniques include 4-7-8 breathing technique, alternate nostril breathing, Anulom Vilom, Bhastrika (or Bellows Breath), Bhramari, box breathing, Buteyko breathing, coordinated breathing, deep breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, holotropic breathwork, huff cough, Kapalabhati (or Breath of Fire), numbered breathing, rib stretch, Sukha Purvaka, Ujjayi and Wim Hof breathing.
Hold Your Breath
Training can increase your ability to hold your breath. Holding your breath for 1-2 minutes is generally fine. Beyond that, your body begins to resist strongly until you pass out around 5-6 minutes and your automatic breathing systems kick back in. Otherwise, you begin suffering irreversible damage.
Quite amazingly, the Guinness Book of World Records longest breath hold is for nearly 25 minutes by a Croatian freediver. Of note, he hyperventilated with pure oxygen for about 30 minutes beforehand. Don’t try to break this record or come anywhere close to it. Deep breath holds are extremely dangerous.
The Nasal Cycle
Have you noticed that sometimes one of your nostrils is plugged up and the other is clear? Have you noticed that you breathe out of one nostril more than the other, then switch?
If so, this is normal. About 85% of people breathe out of one nostril at a time. This is called the nasal cycle and it turns out that each of your nostrils need rest to function properly. They alternate usage about every 2.5 hours by expanding or contracting nasal tissue to open or shut each nostril. Check out this fascinating Nasal Cycle video for more. This explains why sleeping people flip sides every couple hours to change which nostril is active. [Editor’s Note] We wonder if this behavior is somehow related through evolution to unihemispheric sleepers, animals such as crocodiles, penguins, dolphins and bats, which sleep with one half of their brain at a time while keeping one eye open for predators or other threats.
When using both nostrils, your sense of smell surprisingly improves because what you smell is connected with the rate of air flow through your nose. Each nostril breathes in at a different rate, one being faster and more active than the other so you can expand your range of what smells you detect. Your body is pretty amazing!
A range of breath tests diagnose dietary intolerances of lactose, sucrose and fruit as well as bacterial infections such as H.Pylori.
Separately, a device called a rhinomanometer uses acoustic technology to test air flow through nasal passages.
Bad breath comes from poor oral hygiene. If you have bad breath, see our article, Listen to Your Mouth.
Rewarding Conclusion of Proper Breathing
This concludes this article. As your reward for reading and taking care of your health, take two minutes to try a conscious breathing technique such as 4-7-8 or box breathing. Top athletes and US special forces use them to overcome fear, stress and anxiety. See if they work well for you.