So, That Was My Click-Bait Title for My Post on Breathing
Like all clickbait titles that one was a little dishonest. Sorry. Sure, it's true that without breathing you'll die within minutes but it's not like you'll die within minutes if you don't breathe like I'm going to advise you to breathe. I was just trying to make a post about breathing interesting and that's not easy.
Breathe deeply, until sweet air extinguishes the burn of fear in your lungs and every breath is a beautiful refusal to become anything less than infinite. – D. Antoinette Foy
How To Make Breathing Interesting
Once there was a monk who was trying to meditate on his breath. He found the whole thing really boring and went to his teacher. "I can't do this meditation; the breath is simply not interesting enough to focus on." The teacher grabbed the monk by the neck and plunged his head into a trough of drinking water. The monk fought and thrashed and finally was let up, gasping for breath. His teacher enquired "was your breath interesting to you then?"
Now, I'm not recommending becoming a monk or nun and I'm certainly not endorsing that particular teacher's unorthodox teaching style. I think the story illustrates how we take something crucially important, breathing, for granted. Most of us could go an entire day without paying attention to a single breath. I'm going to try to make a case for why you should. There is the potential for better health and wellness just by practicing three simple guidelines.
How To Breathe
Breathe through the nose whenever possible
Use your respiratory diaphragm as the primary breathing muscle
Patrick Mckeown, breathing expert and founder of Oxygen Advantage, gives these reasons to breathe exclusively through the nose:
10-20% better oxygenation
Nasal breathing uses 20% less muscular energy
It can help asthma
It can help sleep apnea
Airway and blood vessel dilation
Can reduce stress and blood pressure
Only nasal breathing utilizes the diaphragm properly
Nasal breathing during exercise can improve focus and coronary artery blood flow
Using Your Diaphragm
If you breathe through your nose, the diaphragm will be doing the work. The only other things to keep in mind when breathing at rest or during low activity:
Breathe low and slow: low down in your abdomen, slow tempo
See if you can feel a 360 degree expansion around your abdomen, a small expansion is enough
Avoid Over Breathing
Don't breathe more deeply than you need to. I have been to my fair share of yoga classes and I always thought deep breathing was good to do as long as it was done with a smooth tempo. Instead, I should have been taking smaller volume breaths and maybe being on the edge of some mild air hunger.
Over breathing results in expelling too much CO2
When CO2 levels drop, blood vessels constrict. You think you're getting more oxygen to your brain and muscles but the opposite is true!
When CO2 levels drop, the blood becomes more alkaline and oxygen stays more strongly bonded to hemoglobin. So not only are your blood vessels constricting, more oxygen molecules are staying in the blood rather than getting to body tissues!
A little air hunger is a good thing. This means CO2 is building up in your body. Blood vessels and airways are opening. Oxygen is flying off of those red blood cells!
Mild air hunger shouldn't feel panic inducing, just a little hungry
This is an exercise known as box breathing led by Patrick Mckeown. To increase air hunger, simply breathe less air in and out during the two second breathing intervals. If you feel too much air hunger just move a little more air during the two second intervals.
A little variation I like is something I call the Box Walk. It's just like the exercise in the video, but you perform it while walking.
Pick a number of steps, I'll use 4 steps in this example.
As you walk inhale for 4 steps, hold for 4 steps, exhale for 4 steps, hold for 4 steps and repeat.
Move less air in and out to experience more air hunger, move a little more air if the air hunger feels too intense. A little air hunger over time will help you adapt to more CO2 in your system.