What Is Effective And Efficient Breathing?
Most of us breathe in more than we breathe out.
Known as inefficient breathing, habits like shallow breathing (the opposite of abdominal breathing) and mouth breathing (the opposite of nose breathing) cause us to over-breathe. Long-term, over-breathing causes a change to the body’s chemistry that impacts on many of the body’s key functions and systems. When the body stays in this ‘red alert’ state for long periods of time, health and wellness is affected. The body is not designed to stay in a constant state of stress so it’s not surprising that things start to go wrong.
Common symptoms of ineffective breathing include:
If left unchecked, bad breathing habits can lead to dysfunctional breathing or even hyperventilation syndrome, a disorder that is difficult to diagnose and often missed by doctors.
Effective and efficient breathing involves the use of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles to breathe from the belly rather than from the chest. Learning to breathe from the belly and through the nose allows your body to function at its optimal level. You are allowing a healthy flow of blood and oxygen to enter the brain and the body. Trust us, your body will thank you for it.
And there are even more benefits to effective diaphragmatic breathing. The increased oxygen flow that occurs when you breathe well allows the body to return to calm and leave the stressed state. This has an extraordinary impact on your ability to let go of sadness, anxiety, anger, pain, and find clarity. Taking a mindful pause to breathe can be the difference between feeling energised or utterly exhausted at the end of the day. Breathing techniques are widely regarded as one of the most significant ways to deal with both physical and psychological pain.
You breathe 17,000 times per day. That adds up to 6 million breaths a year.
Make sure you’re doing it right.
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When you think of breathing, you think of oxygen, right? What most people don’t realise is that if you want to know about good breathing you have to know about carbon dioxide (CO2).
Within our bodies there is an incredible balancing act going on and CO2 is the major player. It is vital that our body can maintain a good balance of CO2 in the blood system in order to keep blood pH levels within the healthy 7.35 to 7.45 range. When blood pH moves out of the healthy range, the body wants to correct the imbalance and will tap into other parts of the body, including the nervous system.
Say, you have to sprint to catch the bus. Hopefully, you’ll make the bus, but as you take your seat you struggle to catch your breath, and your breathing is much faster than normal. You are over-breathing. There is too much CO2 in your body and as a result your blood pH levels rise. An imbalance in your blood chemistry begins. Hopefully, you will slowly recover from your dash to the bus and bring your breathing back to normal so your body can rebalance. In a normal relaxed state, your lungs take care of removing excess CO2 (but not too much) and everything remains in a good balance.
But what happens if you spend a lifetime with bad breathing habits? Where breathing out too fast, too frequently, breathing from the chest or stress causes you to constantly breathe off too much CO2?
Carbon dioxide exists within blood in a gaseous form and is one of the largest components of blood plasma. For this reason, it is impossible for CO2 levels not to affect the blood. In an unhealthy breathing scenario, the effect of CO2 and blood pH imbalance is both immediate and long term. The immediate response is that either CO2 levels drop and pH levels increase (too alkaline) or CO2 levels rise and pH levels decrease (too acidic). Long-term, either scenario takes its toll on the body’s blood chemistry.
When blood/arterial CO2 levels drop below normal levels (35-40mmhg), the effects are:
In response to low CO2 levels, your body releases bicarbonate to balance pH levels. But this is only a short-term solution and is not an ideal long-term solution. If the body stays in a state of low CO2 for long periods of time, it will adjust by creating a ‘new normal’. The body will believe that low levels of CO2 are normal and as a result will be unable to cope when CO2 levels are high. Sensitivity to CO2 is a major cause of anxiety.
We often hear advice about eating to balance pH levels and alkalise the body. What we know now is that maintaining the right CO2 levels within the body is by far the most significant way to control blood pH.
It’s not all bad news! Breathing exercises do improve blood chemistry and help reset the balance. Research supports breath retraining for people with asthma, pregnant women and those suffering from anxiety. Why don’t you take the first step to finding the healthiest version of you? Learn more about breathing training and The Big Exhale breathing programme.