Our entire body depends on oxygen to survive. When you breathe properly, you improve your muscle strength and function, slow your heart rate, and keep your mind clear. However, when you experience high levels of stress, you interfere with your natural breathing patterns and cause a variety of functioning issues.
How Breathing Works
Breathing has been second nature from birth, so not much thought goes into how we actually do it. Since we often don’t think about how we breathe, it’s likely our health has been negatively impacted by our breathing patterns. When we understand how our respiratory system works, it’s easier to adopt breathing patterns for optimal health.
Our diaphragm, which is the muscle at the bottom of our ribcage, shrinks and moves downward. This occurs as we inhale so there’s enough space for our lungs to expand. After our lungs expand, the intercostal rib muscles shrink so our ribcage can move up and outward.
As you inhale through your mouth and nose, it travels down to your trachea, which is what causes your lungs to expand. The air then travels to your bronchial tubes, which passes the oxygen to your air sacs. From there, the oxygen is transferred into your bloodstream.
Simultaneously, the bloodstream releases carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide then travels to your air sacs before being released during your exhale. This process happens between 17,000 and 30,000 times everyday until we die.
Oftentimes, people develop unnatural breathing patterns based on personal habits. For others, their breathing patterns are affected for reasons outside of their control. If you have issues with your overall breathing, take a look at some of the common causes of breathing impairment.
Common Reasons for Impaired Breathing
1. You aren’t breathing through your nose.
We often underestimate the importance of breathing through our nose. However, the nose is a pivotal part of our filtration process, so we can’t afford to skip this step. The only time you’re unable to efficiently breathe through your nose is if you’re congested.
2. You don’t use your belly to breathe.
Your stomach is located right below the diaphragm, which makes it an important part of the respiration process. When you inhale, make sure the air reaches your belly while your diaphragm contrasts. When your belly expands, it allows your lungs to fill up with air.
3. You haven’t learned to work with your illnesses.
Sometimes, a chronic respiratory illness leads to improper breathing. Lung diseases including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) require more energy to breathe properly. These sufferers are more likely to incorporate their shoulders, neck, and chest to breathe, which negatively impacts overall health.
If you’re suffering with a respiratory condition, you must learn how to breathe again. The belly breathing technique is a great way for lung disease sufferers to learn to breathe efficiently.
Lung diseases cause side effects like hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is a condition that causes you to breath really fast. If this occurs, using relaxation exercises are a great way to calm down and get your breath under control.
4. You’re not making healthy lifestyle choices
If you’re struggling to breathe, consider your lifestyle choices. Typically, healthier people who regularly exercise and eat a well-balanced diet have an overall easier time with breathing and lung function. Certain foods increase mucus production, which gradually crowds your air passages.
To minimize the amount of mucus production, it’s wise to either eliminate or cut down on foods including:
Be sure to avoid foods that trigger your allergies. In severe cases, consuming foods you’re allergic to causes anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a full-body allergic reaction that impairs breathing and can even lead to death.
If you have allergies and notice there’s a large amount of pollutants lingering in the air, go out as little as possible. These pollutants and allergens make it difficult to breathe. Also, make sure you remain hydrated, especially when you’re congested.
5. You don’t consume enough fluids when you’re sick.
Congestion clogs your nasal passages, making it difficult to breathe through your nose. Drinking fluids thins the mucus blocking your ability to breathe through your nose. Fluids also coat your throat while adding humidity to the air you inhale.
6. You’re not trusting your body.
Similar to your heart beat, breathing is usually a second-nature bodily function. Therefore, it’s important to listen to your body, especially when you’re having trouble breathing. Trust your respiratory system when it alters your breathing pattern.
Usually, the changes in your breath correlate with your physical activity or mood. For instance, if you’re running, your breathing pattern changes to try and quickly deal with raised levels of carbon dioxide. When you’re asleep, your body has an easier time breathing consistently.
Our lungs are responsible for keeping our blood range within a slim pH margin. When this occurs, we achieve optimal body function. Body receptors are responsible for communicating with our brains, which tell us how to breathe.
When your blood range goes outside of this margin, you make yourself vulnerable to illness. If this occurs, your kidneys and lungs must work overtime to get back to equilibrium. Otherwise, your blood becomes either too basic or do acidic.
7. You don’t consider your surroundings.
Air quality extends beyond the amount of pollutants. In fact, extreme weather conditions take a toll on our respiratory system. It’s also harder to breathe in sudden weather changes.
If you live in warm climates with a generous amount of humidity, you’ll have trouble breathing. Hotter climates create airway inflammation. It’s especially hard for people with respiratory conditions to be in extreme heat and humidity.
Be sure to regularly drink water and stay indoors when it’s too hot outside. Also, turn on your air conditioning to cut down on humidity indoors.
Keep in mind, air pollutants are also in abundance during the summer months. So if you have asthma or any other respiratory condition, learning how to properly breath is very important. You should also utilize resources like AirNow to keep up with your local weather conditions.
If you live in colder climates, dry air also causes breathing problems. Dry air in both cold and warmer climates lead to airway irritation. Common symptoms of airway aggravation include coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
If you have to go out during cold and dry temperatures, wrap a scarf around your neck, nose, mouth to warm the air you inhale. Regularly taking your prescribed medications also help your body better regulate difficult weather conditions.
Breathing Techniques for Optimal Health
Now that you understand how outside factors impact your breathing, here are some techniques to keep your body healthy.
1. The 4-7-8 Technique
The 4-7-8 breathing method is a popular yogic technique. Dr. Andrew Weil developed this for people interested in better controlling their breathing patterns. If you’re suffering with insomnia, this exercise helps you fall asleep if you practice regularly.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is great for relaxation. By slowing down your breaths, this method ensures your organs get the oxygen they need. This is also a great technique to practice when your cortisol levels spike.
A large number of people with insomnia suffer from anxiety and high stress levels. By focusing on your breath, your body has time to calm your fight or flight response enough to get a good night’s rest.
To start, slightly part your lips and exhale through your mouth. Make sure all of the air releases and you make a whooshing noise. Once you’ve exhaled, close your lips.
Silently inhale through your nose for four seconds. Next, hold your breath for seven seconds. Finally, exhale for exhale for eight seconds, making another whooshing sound on the final exhale.
Once you’ve finished the exhale, you’ve completed the first breathing cycle. For full relaxation, practice this technique for at least four cycles. When you do begin, make sure you’re in an environment that allows complete relaxation.
2. Alternate Nostril Breathing
This stress-relief technique has many famous users, including former presidential candidate Hilary Clinton. In fact, Clinton used this as a coping mechanism for her anxiety after losing the 2016 election to president Donald Trump. Alternate nostril breathing users typically achieve a feeling of relaxation, lower anxiety, and overall improved wellness.
This exercise may also increase lung and respiratory-related endurance. If you’re an athlete, this helps with oxygen control during prolonged, high-intensity workouts. Alternate nostril breathing also lowers heart rate, which regulates its beats for enhanced cardiovascular function.
Begin by sitting comfortably with your legs crossed. Place one hand on your corresponding knee. Place the opposite hand on your nose and after exhaling, use one of your fingers to close one of your nostrils.
After inhaling through the opposite nostril, exhale and close the corresponding nostril. Once you’ve done this on both sides, you’ve completed one cycle. For optimal results, continue performing alternate nostril breathing cycles for at least five minutes per session.
Unlike the 4-7-8 breathing technique, you can practice this technique wherever you like. Some people choose to do this exercise in the morning or at night on an empty stomach. If you regularly practice yoga, this exercise is suitable before or after your session.
This technique is safe for most people. However if you have any respiratory conditions like asthma or COPD, speak with your healthcare provider about how this exercise may interfere with your health. If you feel yourself experiencing side effects like dizziness or nausea, stop immediately.
3. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Based on the pivotal role your diaphragm plays in breathing, you must keep this muscle in tip-top shape. When you master diaphragmatic breathing techniques, you’ll have an easier time managing conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. These techniques help you learn proper control.
When you’re under high levels of stress, your immune system goes into overdrive. Eventually, this wears it down and makes you vulnerable to contracting diseases. With a compromised immune system, even minor infections can be fatal.
By learning to properly use your diaphragm muscle, you take a large load off of stress off of the rest of your body. Respiratory conditions like COPD and asthma minimize your lung’s elasticity, which can be improved with proper diaphragmatic breathing exercises.
There are a few ways to improve your diaphragm muscles.
To start, you’ll want to get into a comfortable position. You can either sit or lie down, as long as it’s on a flat surface.
With your shoulders relaxed, place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Inhale through your nose for two seconds. When the air passes through your abdomen, you’ll feel your stomach expand.
Although your stomach expands, your chest should remain in a resting position. Simultaneously purse your lips and press down on your stomach. While you lightly press on your stomach, exhale for another two seconds.
Continue this pattern for a few minutes. In addition to this practice, you can incorporate numbered and rib-stretched breathing to your diaphragm exercises.
Start the rib-stretched exercise in a standing position and arch your back. Inhale for as long as you possibly can. After holding your breath for ten seconds, exhale for as long as can.
For the numbered breathing technique, stand still and close your eyes. Inhale until you physically can’t take in anymore air. Exhale until you’ve released all of the hair from your lungs.
The next time you inhale, think of the number one. Hold the air in your lungs for a few seconds before letting it out. Repeat this step for numbers one through eight.
If you enjoy this exercise, continue counting to whatever number makes you comfortable.
4. Lion’s Breath
The lion’s breath exercise is beneficial for both physical and mental health. For one, it releases facial tension and improves circulation. This is also great for releasing any harbored stress or anger.
If you struggle with confidence or a disquieted mind, you should definitely try this breathing technique. This is also great if you have problems with chest congestion.
To start, comfortably sit on either your heels or with your legs crossed. Spread your hands and place your palms on your knees. With your eyes wide, deeply inhale through your nose.
Simultaneously open your mouth as wide as you can and stick your tongue out. The tip of your tongue should be reaching towards your chin. To contract your frontal throat muscles, make a long “ha” sound.
Make sure to either focus your eyes between your eyebrows or the tip of your nose. Try repeating at least three times for results.
5. Humming Bee Breaths
Humming bee breaths are great for a number of respiratory health conditions. For instance, it’s great for improving asthma-related symptoms. It also helps lower blood pressure, anxiety, stress, and anger.
This yoga breathing technique is one of the few methods of creating an instant calm. To begin, find a place you feel comfortable enough to make humming noises. Once you’re seated comfortably, close your eyes and completely relax your face.
Take your pointer and middle fingers and place them on your tragus cartilage, which is the small area directly in front of your ear canal. As your fingers rest on the tragus, inhale. As you exhale, gently use your fingers and press down on the cartilage.
While you’re holding down your tragus, close your mouth and begin humming. Continue making a humming noise for as long as you can. When done correctly, the humming bee breathing technique immediately subdues your fight-or-flight response.
Whether you practice one or a variety of these breathing exercises, it’s best to practice at least a few times per week. It may take a little bit of getting used to, so do your best to switch it up until you decide which ones you like best. If possible, practice your breathing exercises in the same place around the same time.
Generally, you can do these exercises at any time of the day. Some people prefer to do them when they wake up on an empty stomach or before going to sleep.
Also, it’s best to do at least five minute of each breathing exercise. If you’re a beginner and five minutes seems overwhelming, start with two minutes and work your way up.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t master them on your first attempt. Once you make a habit of practicing these techniques, controlling your breath becomes second nature.
While these exercises are usually beneficial for people with respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD, speak with your healthcare provider about these breathing techniques. Sometimes, certain exercises have short-term side effects for people with respiratory problems. There are a number of healthcare providers that assist with respiratory conditions, including:
-Respiratory specialists, which give advice on medications and patient-specific breathing techniques.
-Mental health experts, which assist with identifying stress triggers and offer therapeutic breathing solutions in addition to breathing techniques.
-A physical therapist. Sometimes, your posture and muscles are the cause of your breathing problems. Physical therapy teaches you how to utilize proper movement and positioning to improve overall breathing.
Breathing techniques have many benefits, however, you should never stop taking your prescribed medication. Use these techniques to enhance whatever you’re currently using to keep your symptoms under control. If you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseous at any time during these exercises, stop immediately.
Your ability to breath essentially controls your quality of life. Therefore, it’s your responsibility to be proactive and keep your respiratory in premium shape. By maintaining a healthy diet, keeping up with your medications, and practicing these exercises, your body.