Breathing exercises have been around for centuries…yes, in the form of pranayama, but other cultures and techniques have risen as well. And are they any good?
Short answer, yes, they are. As they all mostly create a similar environment in the body. An environment where oxygen molecules efficiently reach our tissues, and any excess carbon dioxide produced is exhaled via our lungs. We need just the right amount of carbon dioxide in our body, and just the right amount of oxygen. Pranayama and other breathing exercises help to correct any imbalances created by breathing wrong.
What??? We breathe wrong? (Trust me, it’s a thing. After 20+ years of yoga, it’s very clear some of us need to learn proper breathing techniques. I had to!)
Shallow Breathing: This is when we take short, shallow breaths from the chest instead of breathing deeply from the diaphragm. Shallow breathing can lead to anxiety, fatigue, and decreased oxygenation of the body.
Mouth Breathing: Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose can cause dry mouth, bad breath, and can increase the risk of respiratory infections.
Hyperventilation: This is when we breathe too quickly and deeply, which can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, and even fainting. Hyperventilation can be caused by anxiety, stress, or panic attacks.
Chest Breathing: This is when we breathe only from the chest, without expanding the diaphragm. Chest breathing can cause tension in the neck and shoulders, and can lead to shortness of breath and fatigue.
Breath Holding: This is when we hold our breath for too long or too often, which can decrease oxygen levels in the body and increase carbon dioxide levels. This can cause dizziness, fainting, and even seizures in extreme cases.
A little more on mouth breathing, which many of us do inadvertently. Breathing through the mouth as a habit or in everyday situations can have negative effects on our health. When we breathe through the mouth, the air that enters our mouth is not filtered or moistened by the nose, which can lead to a dry mouth and throat. Mouth breathing can cause bad breath, as the dry mouth environment can allow bacteria to grow. It can increase the risk of respiratory infections, as the air that enters through the mouth is not filtered by the nose, which is lined with tiny hairs that trap bacteria and other particles. Breathing through the mouth during sleep can contribute to snoring and sleep apnea, a condition where breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep. Finally, mouth breathing can lead to reduced oxygenation of the body, as the air that enters through the mouth does not go through the filtration and warming process that occurs in the nasal passages.In contrast, breathing through the nose is preferred, as it filters, humidifies, and warms the air before it enters the lungs, which can help to prevent respiratory infections and promote overall health and well-being.
So why do we need carbon dioxide? I thought we expel CO2
We do expel it, but as I mentioned it’s all about the balance. Carbon dioxide (CO2) plays several vital roles in the human body.
1. CO2 helps to regulate the pH of the blood by acting as a buffer. When CO2 levels in the blood rise, the body produces bicarbonate ions, which help to maintain a stable pH. 2. CO2 helps to facilitate the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide during respiration. When we breathe in, oxygen is transported to the body's tissues, and when we breathe out, CO2 is expelled. 3. CO2 is a vasodilator, which means it helps to dilate or widen blood vessels. This can help to increase blood flow to the body's tissues and organs. 4. CO2 levels in the blood can affect breathing rate. When CO2 levels rise, the body's respiratory rate increases to expel the excess CO2. 5. CO2 can affect brain function by regulating blood flow to the brain and affecting neural activity. Changes in CO2 levels can lead to alterations in mood, consciousness, and cognitive function.
We all know oxygen is essential, but can we have too much oxygen?
Yes, the body can have too much oxygen, which is known as hyperoxia. Hyperoxia can occur when there is an excess of oxygen in the air or when a person receives too much supplemental oxygen.
1.Excessive oxygen can depress the respiratory drive, making it more difficult to breathe. This is particularly problematic for people with certain respiratory conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 2. Prolonged exposure to high levels of oxygen can lead to oxygen toxicity, which can cause damage to the lungs and other organs. Symptoms of oxygen toxicity may include coughing, chest pain, difficulty breathing, and nausea. 3. Hyperoxia can cause blood vessels to constrict or narrow, which can reduce blood flow to the body's tissues and organs. 4. Most common from over breathing: High levels of oxygen can increase the production of free radicals, which can damage cells and tissues and contribute to inflammation.
What the heck is over breathing and how do I fix it?
Over breathing is hyperventilation, as discussed above, and it is another common problem in our overstressed culture of too much information and processing occurring at all times! Some of us can’t even go to the bathroom without looking at our phones. So here is one of the other breathing methods that I mentioned above. It is a variation of pratiloma from Yogic Pranayama techniques. It is called the Buteyko method. The Buteyko Method is a breathing technique developed in the 1950s by a Ukrainian physician named Konstantin Buteyko. It is based on the idea that many people chronically over-breathe, taking in more air than their body needs. This can lead to a variety of health problems, including asthma, anxiety, sleep apnea, and more. The Buteyko Method involves a series of exercises designed to help people reduce their breathing rate and volume, and to improve the way they breathe. It emphasizes nasal breathing, breath control, and relaxation. The method teaches people to breathe through their nose, gently and slowly, and to use the diaphragm and other muscles of the abdomen and chest to control their breathing.
Breath Retention in Breathing Exercises
In some breathing exercises, holding your breath (also known as breath retention or apnea) can be an important part of the practice. This is because holding your breath can help to increase the amount of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream, which can have several beneficial effects on the body.
When you hold your breath, carbon dioxide levels in your body increase, which causes the blood vessels to dilate and allows for improved oxygenation of the body's tissues. Additionally, holding your breath can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
There are different types of breath retention techniques, including breath holds after inhaling (known as antar kumbhaka in yoga) or after exhaling (known as bahya kumbhaka).
Antara kumbhaka is the breath retention practice in yoga where you hold your breath after inhaling. When you hold your breath after inhaling, the oxygen in your lungs is absorbed into your bloodstream and delivered to your body's tissues. This can help to improve the overall oxygenation of your body and may help to boost energy levels and reduce feelings of fatigue. Antara kumbhaka can help to increase the strength and capacity of your lungs. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with respiratory issues such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Holding your breath after inhaling can help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for promoting feelings of relaxation and reducing stress and anxiety. It is a mindfulness practice that requires concentration and focus. Regular practice can help to improve mental clarity, focus, and concentration. It is also believed to have several potential health benefits, including reducing inflammation, improving digestion, and boosting the immune system.
Bahya kumbhaka is the breath retention practice in yoga where you hold your breath after exhaling. Bahya kumbhaka can help to improve breath control by strengthening the muscles involved in breathing, including the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. Holding your breath after exhaling can stimulate the digestive system, helping to improve digestion and relieve symptoms of indigestion. Bahya kumbhaka can help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for promoting feelings of relaxation and reducing stress and anxiety. Just like antara kumbhaka, bahya kumbhaka is a mindfulness practice that requires concentration and focus. Regular practice can help to improve mental clarity, focus, and concentration. And finally, bahya kumbhaka can help to increase lung capacity by expanding the lungs and improving the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Pranayama techniques can involve different patterns of inhalation, exhalation, and breath retention, and are typically practiced in conjunction with other yoga practices such as asanas (yoga postures) and meditation.
The Buteyko Method, on the other hand, is a more recent breathing technique. The method emphasizes nasal breathing, breath control, and relaxation, and is often used to help alleviate symptoms of respiratory conditions such as asthma and sleep apnea. Pranayama includes techniques of controlled hyper ventilation that involves breathing rapidly and deeply for a short period of time. This practice is believed to have several potential benefits for the body and the mind. Controlled hyper ventilation can increase the amount of oxygen in the body by increasing the breathing rate and volume. This can help to boost energy levels and reduce feelings of fatigue. By increasing the breathing rate and volume, controlled hyper ventilation can help to improve respiratory function and increase lung capacity. Rapid breathing can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "fight or flight" response. However, by practicing controlled hyper ventilation, individuals can learn to control this response and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Ultimately, rapid breathing can increase blood flow to the brain, which can help to improve mental clarity, focus, and concentration and can even help in reducing chronic inflammation.
There are several tools available to us to improve our quality of life and our wellbeing. There can be no doubt, however, that the quality of our breath is key. With the correct breathing exercises we can optimize our health and energy. Reach out to learn breathing techniques and exercises that may help you live a more vibrant life.