Thursday, January 22, 2015

Breathing - Top 5 Things to Remember

By Iva Lloyd, ND

Breathing is the second part of our Guide to Health. Breathing defines life.  It is the first sign of life when you are born and the absence of breath is generally what defines the end of a person's life. Breathing is linked to every function of the body and its importance is often overlooked.

There are a number of conditions that are associated with improper breathing, including: insomnia or poor sleep, decrease in energy, poor concentration, wheezing, coughing, snoring, anxiety, ADHD, hypertension, stress incontinence and others.

Proper breathing involves the following: breathing into the belly, slowing down the rate of your breath, decreasing the volume of your breath and breathing through your nose instead of your mouth. The top five things that you want to remember about breathing are the following:

#1: Slow down your breathing.

Over-breathing has become as habitual as over-eating.  Increased respiration rate or rapid breathing causes an imbalance in the oxygenation of tissues. There is a false belief that when you breathe more rapidly you are taking in more oxygen, when in fact you are limiting the body's ability to properly use the oxygen that you are inhaling.

Learning to slow down the rate of your breathing is beneficial in a number of ways. It helps the nervous system relax which decreases anxiety and stress and provides increased emotional control.

The rate of your breathing should match the rate of your activity. When you are sedentary your breathing rate needs to be slow and your volume needs to be low. When you are more active it is natural for your breathing rate and volume to increase. The goal is to return to a slow regular breathing pattern as quickly as possible after exercise.  By learning how to control the rate and volume of your breathing you can alleviate a number of chronic health conditions.

#2: Breathe through your nose.

Breathing through your nose is the optimal way to breathe. The hairs in the nose are designed to filter the air and ensure that toxins do not get into the lungs. Nasal breathing also warms the air before it hits the lungs, resulting in relaxation of the lungs and improvement in respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Breathing through your nose, with your mouth closed, ensures that your blood is saturated with oxygen. Mouth breathing increases the exhalation of carbon dioxide, but it can often be too much. Carbon dioxide is important in that it helps to regulate the rate of breathing and also plays a role in relaxing smooth muscles.

Mouth breathing is often a vicious cycle. Nasal or sinus congestion contributes to the tendency to mouth breathe.  The concern is that mouth breathing also increases the amount of nasal congestion. Another cause of nasal or sinus congestion is food intolerances, especially to dairy and/or wheat or yeast. If nasal congestion is a concern, identify the foods that may be contributing, ensure that you are drinking adequate water, use a nasal salt rinse and ask your naturopathic doctor about herbs or homeopathics that may be beneficial. Click on this link for a breathing exercise that is also very beneficial in relieving nasal congestion.

People that breathe rapidly or through the mouth often end up over-breathing. This condition is referred to as hyperventilation syndrome (HVS) or breathing pattern disorder. Over-breathing results in a lack of carbon dioxide in the blood, which in turn results in constriction of smooth muscles and the airways. Over-breathing can lead to a number of health issues, including: sleep apnea, snoring, insomnia, wheezing, irritable bowel syndrome, stress incontinence, anxiety, panic attacks, pain, asthma, allergies, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, angina and other cardiovascular conditions. People that engage in a lot of sports and/or yoga activities are more likely to over-breathe. Below are some research articles showing the link between breathing and symptoms:

#3: Breathe into your low abdomen.
It is important to remember that "taking a deep breath" is about breathing deep into the body; not about taking a big or large breath.

When you breathe into the belly the diaphragm drops, which in turn pumps the liver and gallbladder ensuring that bile doesn't build up and also helps keep the stomach in the correct position. Chest breathing causes a number of problems. First, it uses the neck and shoulder muscles to breathe versus the diaphragm contributing to chronic neck tension. Second, it pulls the stomach and the liver / gallbladder too close to the diaphragm. The result is an increase risk of heartburn, GERD, gallstones and liver congestion.

Check out this link for a guide on how to breathe properly, or better still, plan to join us for our monthly seminar on proper breathing.

#4: Breathing can reduce anxiety and stress.

Incorporating breathing exercises into your regimen is extremely important, especially if you suffer from anger, anxiety, panic attacks, or a feeling of breathlessness. Breathing through the nose with a focus on slowing down the breath is often the most effective way of calming the nervous system. Breathing exercises that intentionally focus on increasing the length of the exhalation can be beneficial in helping a person let go of whatever they are hanging onto. Meditation and other mindfulness exercises focus on increasing the length of the rest period which helps a person become more relaxed and more settled.

To learn more about the mechanism of breathing, check out this link. I personally find that the cleansing breath is a wonderful way to let go of the tension in a day.  It is also helpful in increasing the depth of breath that you can take. There are a number of breathing techniques that are helpful to learn. The Buteyko breathing technique is useful as is mindfulness breathing.

#5: Recognize the lifestyle factors that affect your breathing.

Breathing is influenced by a number of factors, including what you eat and drink and your posture. Being well hydrated and eating fruits and vegetables are required for proper breathing and only impact breathing if you are intolerant to them. Foods that are acidic, such as processed foods, fried food, junk food and diets high in protein and grains, often contribute to over-breathing and an increase in respiration rate. The lungs are responsible for helping to maintain the proper pH in the body. If your diet or lifestyle is acidic, it requires the lungs to work harder to help blow off the excess acid. Caffeinated beverages or drinks high in sugar affect breathing in two ways. First, they are acidic and impact the pH of the blood and second they stimulate the nervous system, resulting in an increase in the rate of breathing and other potential changes, such as an increase in blood pressure, dehydration or feelings of anxiousness or being unsettled. I recommend that you pay attention to how your breathing changes based on what you eat and drink. Check out this link to learn more about the importance of breathing and the factors that affect breath.

Rounded shoulders and a slouched posture affect breathing as they limit the ability of the lungs to expand when you are inhaling. If there is limited space to expand, due to a contracted or rigid posture, it can affect your ability to take a full breath. The body works as a unit.  When the chest is concave and is limited by a person's posture, it reduces a person's ability to breathe easily. Improving breathing often includes addressing postural imbalances at the same time.

    2015 Guide to Health Series

    Check out the other topics on our Guide to Health Series. Each month we will he highlighting the top five things you need to know about each topic. The topics that will be covered include:

    February - Breathing
    March - Movement
    April - Sleep
    May - Healthy Eating
    June - Hygiene and the Ability to Eliminate Toxins
    July - Alignment and Posture
    August - Alkaline lifestyle and personal care products
    September - The Power of the Mind
    October - Time Spent Outdoors
    November - Addressing Environmental Factors
    December - Healthy Relationships

    As part of our Guide to Health Series, we will be offering weekly tweets and in-house seminars on each topic. If you are unable to attend our seminars, we will be providing video highlights of some of the seminars on our website.  Follow us on twitter  for weekly updates.

    If you have any questions about breathing that you would like us to address, please contact us at We will be posting all answers on the "Breathing" page on our website.

    Let us know if you are joining us on the Guide to Health Series by sending us an email or by hitting the "like" logo on our blog.