Breathing Retraining

We can live weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without breathing. Life starts with our first breathe, and ends with our last, but between our first and last breathes few of us ever think of how often we breathe, how deeply we breathe, or how relevant breathing is to our state of health, to our well-being, to performance at work, at home, in sport, across life.

Breathing is fundamental to life, to health, to peak performance.

Our respiratory system – breathing – is the single most important system as it is the system which has the ability to change our entire physiology in an instant.  By changing how we breathe we change our physiology, our pH, and by changing our acid-base balance we change everything… the oxygenation of our body and brain, conductivity of our nervous system, the sensitivity of our flight-fight-freeze reflex, our ability to digest food, our mental agility, our level of concentration, memory, focus, our emotional stability, and physical attributes such as endurance, strength, speed, and power.

blue-brain-imageWhen our lips or finger nails go blue we can see that there isn’t enough oxygen going to them, but we don’t see our brain go blue as a result of unhealthy breathing.

Without proper breathing, health is impossible.

Unhealthy breathing patterns – i.e. overbreathing – have been linked in numerous studies to:

Heart Disease, Pulmonary Hypertension, Cancer, Diabetes, Asthma, COPD, Sleep Apnea, Hyperthyroidism, Panic Disorder, and Bipolar Disorder

With all these diseases, patients breathe at least twice as much as what is required for normal healthy breathing. The error made is in the belief that more breathing is healthier, that more breathing increases oxygenation. Fact is just the opposite: more breathing (i.e. overbreathing) reduces oxygenation to the tissues of the body, hence a blue brain with overbreathing. If the brain becomes blue with overbreathing and its the most important organ in the body, then imagine how blue and oxygen deprived every other life sustaining organ is in your body.

With our body and brains poorly oxygenated is it really any surprise that we have difficulty concentrating, digesting food, have food sensitivities, have difficulty regulating emotions, are sensitive to light, to touch, to pain, fatigue quickly and easily, and suffer a variety of nagging injuries, illnesses, and diseases?

Consider the amount of oxygen given during CPR: its obviously less than in room air, yet there is more than enough oxygen coming out of the rescuer in their exhale to go into the victim to save a life, to restore life, to resuscitate another person.  We need far less air than we believe, as such we need to breathe far less than we do.

Without proper breathing, peak performance is impossible.

During exercise, while training and competing in sport, unhealthy breathing patterns cause athletes to prematurely switch to anaerobic energy production.

During a musical performance, no matter whether its playing a wind instrument or when singing, unhealthy breathing will decrease the artists strength, range and tone.

Overbreathing – i.e. unhealthy breathing – shuts down aerobic energy production decreasing cardiovascular endurance, maximum strength, peak speed and power. With physical attributes diminished, cramping, spasming, and side stitches (i.e. diaphragm spasms) are all potential side-effects. Overbreathing leads to overheating, it will accelerate dehydration, as well as facilitate the flight-fight-freeze reflex. Overbreathing results in chemical changes which lead to blood vessels constricting in the brain, reducing focus, drive, and concentration, and throughout the body, increasing lactic acid production, while decreasing its removal.

Breathing changes and controls everything, but we pay so little attention to how we breathe.

Questions? Email me at physio@theathletescloud.ca.

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Links to Related Articles:

  1. Breathing Pattern Disorders, Motor Control and Low Back Pain
  2. Breathing Pattern Disorders and Functional Movement
  3. Just Breathe: Body Has A Built-In Stress Reliever
  4. Sleep-Disordered Breathing, Glucose Intolerance, and Insulin Resistance
  5. Sleep-Disordered Breathing and Cardiovascular Disease
  6. Effect of Breathing Exercises on Airway Reactivity in Subjects with Asthma
  7. Breathing Exercise Effectiveness in Postoperative Pulmonary Complications
  8. Effect of Breathing Exercises on Autonomic Function
  9. Pain and Faulty Breathing: A Pilot Study
  10. Risk Factors for Respiratory Tract and GI infections in Elite Athletes
  11. Benefits of Breathing
  12. TED talks on Breathing