When it comes to health, breathing is a topic that is so often overlooked but learning how to properly oxygenate your brain and body is one of the most important ways to stay fit and healthy.
Proper breathing helps to relieve stress, reduce anxiety and give your vital organs the correct cleansing and living fuel, but most people have no idea how to breathe correctly to sustain good health. Instead, the two most common breathing problems include mouth-breathing and over-breathing, both of which have been found to adversely affect overall health.
Scientists have even suggested that mouth-breathing alters the structure of the face, causing features to narrow and droop downward. This problem can lead to developing lifelong obstructive sleep apnea, which in itself causes a host of negative health consequences.
Nose-Breathing Is Great for Health & Stress Management
When stress levels increase, breathing tends to become faster, deeper, louder, and more often only happens through the mouth and into the upper area of the chest.
Patrick McKeown has been studying the Buteyko Breathing Method for over 12 years, which was named after the Russian physicist who discovered it, and is currently teaching it all over the world to help people to manage their stress levels and get healthier.
He says that taking a deep breath when stressed could very well produce the opposite result, but that a slow, long breath using the diaphragm is what is needed to induce a state of calm.
In order to breathe less, slower, and more effectively, breathing through the nose has been found to be the best method to relax.
Why Carbon Dioxide is Important
While Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is generally believed to be a waste gas, the body actually requires a certain amount of it to maintain a normal breathing volume.
Heavy breathing in stressed states releases too much CO2, which causes muscular contraction in airways and the feeling of not getting enough air. This triggers a cycle of breathing even more intensely, losing more CO2, and worsening the condition. In order to break this negative loop, the best method is to breathe through your nose because it automatically causes you to breathe less and at a much slower rate.
Additionally, while it is commonly believed that bigger breaths equal more oxygen into the body, it actually has the opposite effect. The bigger the breath, the higher the CO2 elimination, resulting in constricted blood vessels and the overall effect of less oxygen to the body. This can cause light-headedness, dizziness, and fatigue.
Breathe Less to Gain More
According to medical research, breathing less and breathing through the nose can relieve a host of health problems, including reducing the symptoms of asthma, chronic heart disease, and fits of anxiety.
McKeown explains that the body breathes or yawns not to take in more oxygen, but actually to get rid of excess CO2. “Oxygen only drives your breathing when oxygen levels drop to about 50 percent, and that would be quite an extreme situation. So, your body breathes to get rid of the excess gas, CO2.”
Practicing to breathe more through the nose will increase CO2 tolerance, which will lead to better health. Your body generates more CO2 when you exercise, and if you develop a good tolerance for it, your breathing rate would be much lower than someone who has not yet developed a tolerance to it.
How to Actually Do It
McKeown has demonstrated a number of methods for better breathing through his TED talks, pointing out that proper breathing will be soft, quiet, and light.
It should not be audible or visibly noticeable, and should be in through the nose and out through the mouth.
In order to practice this, try the following:
- With one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, feel your belly move as you breathe in and out slowly, keeping your chest from rising and sinking. This helps to practice breathing from the diaphragm.
- Next, close your mouth and breathe in and out through your nose, focusing on the cold air entering your nostrils and filling your body with oxygen.
- When you are ready, exhale the warm air through your mouth and feel the calming effect of proper oxygenation followed by gentle CO2 release.
- Practice breathing through your nose and with into your diaphragm to teach your body to breathe properly and to prepare to face any stress or anxiety in the future.