In this article, you'll learn two breathing mistakes you are probably making that put your body into chronic stress, lower your mental acuity, and invite a host of health issues. You'll also learn a simple remedy. It's so easy, you can put it into practice as you're reading this.
Have you paid much attention to how you breathe? Perhaps you have during meditation, in a yoga class, during exercise, or when you were congested. For the most part, however, you probably take breathing for granted. It's something your body does naturally, on its own, without your conscious involvement. That's good-and amazing-how your body takes care of itself without you needing to pay attention to this basic, life-sustaining action.
On the other hand, your body can fall into poor breathing habits – and this sets you up for:
• brain fog,
• heart disease,
• weight gain,
• chronic low energy …
Two Breathing Mistakes
Did you know your body may be making two breath mistakes without you even knowing it? These mistakes can lead to this whole host of seemingly unexplained symptoms, such as anxiety, insomnia, brain fog, asthma, inflammation, hypertension, heart disease, COPD, weight gain, indigestion, and chronic low energy. Do you suffer from any of these? If you have not yet, would you like to prevent them?
The two mistakes are “mouth-breathing” and “over-breathing.” By mouth-breathing I mean breathing in and / or out through your mouth and by over-breathing I mean taking too big a breath or too many breaths.
Now, this may sound counter-intuitive. Are not you invited to take big, deep breaths and exhale through your mouth to release carbon dioxide? In yoga class, you may have been told to take a “cleansing breath” in which you breathe out forcefully through your mouth to release tension. Are these not good ideas?
It turns out, as regular habits, they are not healthy. Here's why: When you breathe out through your mouth on a regular basis you exhale too much carbon dioxide. Breathing too big and too often exacerbates the situation.
Why is this a problem?
It turns out that having a certain level of carbon dioxide in your blood is necessary for the offloading of oxygen from your blood to your cells, as well as for the dilation of your blood vessels and airways, and the regulation of body pH. (Source: “The Oxygen Advantage,” by Patrick McKeown, 2015, p.28). Carbon dioxide is necessary to insure the oxygen you breathe in is delivered to your cells. Without sufficient carbon dioxide in your system, your body becomes oxygen-starved.
When your body senses it is oxygen-starved, it signals more over-breathing and more mouth-breathing which makes the issue worse and worse, historically leading to all those health, energy, and mental acuity issues cited above.
(If you want more information and research on this, I highly recommend “The Oxygen Advantage,” by Patrick McKeown. He travels around the world educating doctors, athletes, and patients about these breathing mistakes and offering a simple remedy and a series of exercises to put it into practice.)
So, what's the remedy?
Nasal breathing and gentle full breathing. Nasal breathing means breathing in and out through your nose only. Gentle, full breathing means taking in only as much breath as you need and allowing your breath to fill your lungs completely from bottom to top.
Nasal breathing is important for numerous reasons. First, breathing in and out through your nose warms and cleans the air on the way in and clears your nasal passes on the way out. Second, nasal breathing stimulates the production of nitric oxide, which dilates your blood vessels and airways allowing more blood and oxygen flow.
Nasal breathing also limits the outpouring of carbon dioxide, so you retain more CO2 in your system. CO2 stimulates the production of red blood cells and is necessary for red blood cells carrying oxygen to release oxygen to your cells. The end result is greater oxygen delivery to your whole body.
To practice nasal breathing, just close your mouth while you breathe. You can start doing this right now while you are reading.
You can practice allowing your breathing to become gentle and full by placing your hands on your abdomen and your chest and noticing a slight expansion of your abdomen and then your chest as you inhale. Apply a slight pressure with your hands to encourage your breathing to be full, but minimal. This will insure that you are breathing deeply, but not over-breathing.
Once you are comfortable practicing gentle, full, nasal breathing sitting and relaxing, try it while you are going to sleep. (McKeown actually has his clients tape their mouths closed during sleep to reset their bodies to nasal breathing.) Finally, try it while walking, then work up to doing it during more vigorous exercise. This will take some practice and should not be forced. Allow your body to gradually acclimate to nasal breathing through consistent progressive practice.
I first learned this style of breathing in Qigong Meditation years ago, yet, until I read McKeown's book, I failed to apply it more broadly. As a result, I was a chronic over-breath and mouth breather for years. In my fifties, this led to trouble sleeping, low energy, more aches, pains, tension, and inflammation in my body, and trouble catching my breath during exercise. I noticed myself sighing, yawning, and taking lots of really deep breaths. My metabolism was also slowing down and I was feeling colder. These are all signs of chronic mouth breathing and over-breathing.
When I initially tried to nasal breathe during exercise, I had to cut my exercise intensity down to about 50%. It took me about 3 months to retrain my body to nasal breathe at full intensity. It takes time for your body to become comfortable with more carbon dioxide.
Now, I am nasal breathing all the time and notice that I have much better energy, generally sleep better, my exercise is stronger, and my meditations are deeper. I am more relaxed and at ease through the day. My head is clear, my body is warmer, and I have many less aches and pains.
I encourage you to experiment with full, gentle, nasal breathing and see what it can do for you.