It’s never too late to learn how to do something right that you’ve literally done your whole life. Photo: Spencer Selover, Pexels
We all learn a few universal truths in school: the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and breathing is an involuntary and automatic process. But not all breaths are equal, and just because we’re doing it all the time doesn’t mean we’re doing it right.
If you are reading this article, congratulations. However, you’ve been breathing your whole life has at least brought you this far. But Denzel Dion So, a Philippines-based breathing coach, said there’s a big difference between surviving and thriving. As an instructor, he teaches breathing classes for people with mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
According to So, breathing affects all major body functions. After all, every cell in our body needs oxygen to function, so breathing plays a vital role not only in our physiology but also in our psychology.
“When you participate and engage in a breathing practice, it creates a ripple effect in your decision-making process and your response to the environment. These small changes in your lifestyle make you a more human being. resilient and give you the opportunity to be in control instead of being controlled,” So said.
VICE asked So about the most common ways people breathe incorrectly, the best ways to breathe, and how to get into the habit of breathing correctly.
What are the most common mistakes people make while breathing?
Denzel Dion Then: There are three major issues that I commonly observe. The first noticeable problem is mouth breathing. Simply put, the nose was designed for ventilation and the mouth was designed for digestion. Mouth breathing is an inefficient way of breathing because there is less resistance to airflow, making the rate of breathing much faster than it should be. From a biochemical point of view, mouth breathing does not allow [as much] air enters the lower lobes of the lungs. Thus, you will often feel dizzy and tired.
The second problem is that most people would conduct their breathing primarily from the upper part of their chest. When we use our chest muscles to breathe, the main muscle responsible for breathing, which is the diaphragm, becomes stagnant. Breathing then becomes shallow and we often feel tension around the neck and shoulders. It creates that feeling of suffocation, and that type of breathing tells your brain and your body that you’re in danger, which is obviously not somewhere you want to be if you’re actually in a safe environment.
Finally, breathing too fast. This is arguably the biggest misconception regarding breathing. Such a case is not ideal. When you breathe rapidly with an average of 16-20 breaths per minute (a good goal is 10-14, but between six and eight is most ideal), your brain adjusts to this, thinking you would still need to breathe. . This, in effect, gives our body a false alarm. It’s no wonder so many people suffer from shortness of breath, brain fog, and early onset fatigue.
The good news is that everything I told you is highly trainable.
What is the best way to breathe?
LSD breathing – light, slow and deep. This is where I would like to start, because the practice itself is so simple that anyone can start implementing it.
When we say inhale lightly, we mean bringing less air in through your nose and a nice smooth exhale through your nose as well. A feeling of air hunger is normal and it is exactly what we want to become tolerant to carbon dioxide (CO2). Virtually no sound should be heard while breathing and you should visualize a tiny feather floating in the air. This is how your breath should be fine and light.
When we say breathe slowly, do your best to lengthen your breath and pause briefly at the bottom [the end of the exhale]. Rapid, shallow breathing corresponds to an agitated mind. More often than not, we’re so used to thinking we have to take the next breath without actually internalizing that it’s perfectly normal to stay deep in the breath. Try to reach 6 to 10 breaths per minute by lengthening the inspirations and expirations. A five-second inhale, a five-second exhale, and a five-second pause at the bottom. Learning to be comfortable in these brief pauses is essential to any breathing practice.
Breathe deeply – learn to breathe horizontally rather than vertically. Place your hands on your lower ribs like a belt buckle, and as you inhale, you should feel your hands expand laterally. As you exhale, you should feel your hands coming together. Breathing deeply doesn’t just mean feeling the expansion of the front and sides of your belly. You should also feel your lumbar spine or lower back muscles expand. This is what we call 3D breathing—front, sides, and back.
Should the way a person breathes change depending on what they are doing?
Yes. Context is king. There really is no clear black and white answer to how to breathe 100% of the time, as it will ultimately depend on how active a person is. However, in most cases, I would encourage people to breathe through their nose and learn to breathe slowly and deeply.
During exercise I have what I call a “gear system”. Depending on the intensity of the exercise, there are different breathing patterns that one can use. There is a time and a place to breathe quickly and through your mouth (during intense physical activity or when your nose is congested) but more often than not I prefer to train people to use their nose during training. Professional combat athletes and other endurance athletes benefit from slow nose breathing as it helps stabilize heart rate and achieve faster recovery rates when it comes to conditioning.
During sleep, it is strongly recommended to breathe through the nose. A telltale sign that you are mouth breathing while sleeping is waking up with a dry mouth or lips. Undiagnosed sleep apnea, where breathing repeatedly stops and starts again during sleep, is a serious sleep disorder and is deeply correlated with mouth breathing. If you usually wake up tired, that’s also a sign that you should start breathing through your nose while you sleep.
How can a person breathe better while sleeping?
Practice breathing during the day. Try to breathe through your nose for most of your day to reinforce good ventilation. It will eventually spill over into your sleep. Consistency always wins.
Sleep on your side. Sleeping on your back can cause your tongue to fall back towards your throat, which limits airway flow. Sleeping on your side can help open up your airways, which makes it much easier to breathe through your nose.
Decongests the nose. Try using essential oils or nasal breathing exercises in which you hold your breath at the bottom of the exhale until you feel a moderate to strong hunger for air while walking or making subtle movements.
What exercises can people do to help them get into the habit of breathing well?
You can start by doing the LSD breath I described above. You can also do consistent breathing, i.e. an equal length of inhale and exhale. Another breathing pattern in my toolbox is to double the exhales, which simply means you double the time of your exhales, while implementing LSD.
If you have a stuffy nose and can’t use your nose to breathe, I can recommend performing a nose unclogging exercise first thing in the morning. You breathe normally through your nose for five rounds and at the end of the fifth breath you pinch your nose and begin to turn your head left and right and back and forth until you feel the first noticeable sign of breathing or a healthy accumulation of air hunger. Do this for 10 rounds.
More than anything else, it’s about consistency in practice. I recommend having at least two practices a day (morning and evening sessions) to really reap the benefits. Please also consider other lifestyle habits such as nutritional choices, movement practice, hydration and healthy sleep to really reap the maximum benefits for your overall well-being.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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