Breathing for Health


We breathe 18,000 to 30,000 times per day. There are 100 trillion cells in the body, and every one of them needs good oxygen transmission. Each of the 11 systems of the body is affected by breathing. The brain comprises only 2 percent of our body weight, and yet it uses 20 percent of the oxygen in the body. However, just because we breathe doesn't mean we do it well. Learning to breathe effectively can be very challenging because most of the time, breathing is an activity we instinctively perform on a subconscious level. Despite being subconscious, disorders of breathing have a huge impact on our health. Anxiety and stress are a huge epidemic, and are blamed for about half of all primary care visits. We might not be able to get rid of our stressors, but we can get rid of the stress responses in the body by retraining our breathing.

Breathing Myths

First of all, breathing is not just about oxygen. We need carbon dioxide (CO2) to deliver the oxygen. Each time we exhale, we breathe out 20-30 percent CO2. Breathe in, and your heart rate increases. Breathe out, and your heart rate decreases, which is exactly what we need to do more of when we're stressed, and brings us to the second myth. When we are stressed, people always say, "Take a deep breath." Actually what you need to do is give a huge exhale and get rid of as much CO2 as possible.   Getting rid of the waste product of oxidation is an important release of the stress response in your body. You don't have to be relaxed to breathe well, you can cleanse your body of C02 even while still excited. But learning to breathe OUT will let your body know that the stress response is diminishing. Lastly, people think that it makes no difference if you breathe through your nose or mouth. You might not realize this, but breathing through your mouth is actually harmful to your health. Breathing in through your mouth allows more than six times the air in than your nose would allow. Why is this harmful? Your nose is designed to be the intake system for respiration. It's an air conditioner, filter, and humidifier. Inhaling through your nose relieves pressure from your spine, which helps keep the lungs in shape, not to mention your posture.

So how can you breathe better?

Laurie McLaughlin, a researcher and accredited specialist in orthopedic physiotherapy, says that there are a few things that statistically favor good breathing. It's easy to remember, if you just keep it simple.

At rest, good breathing is:

Nose Low (not chest)

Slow (8-14 Breaths per minute, 6 breaths per minute when relaxing)

Let Go (Exhale is passive and about 60/40 ratio with inhaling)

Quiet (gentle, not harsh)Following these basic elements of good breathing ensures every system in the body will receive sufficient oxygen and expel sufficient CO2.

You'll also relieve tension in the neck, shoulders, and thorax, promote relaxation, reduce stress, and activate the deep postural muscles which support the entire spine. It's easy, if you think about it. So remember, Nose-Low-Slow-Let Go-Quite.  

Be well!


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