Breathing matters

I’d never really thought that much about breathing until I heard Dr Libby Weaver speak one night. I just thought it was an automatic type thing – and that although you could control it – I didn’t really realise it was vital for stress management, sleep or alertness. In fact there’s a whole breath science out there, with specialist breathing clinics, mainly due to our stressful way of life and its negative effect on our breathing patterns.

Have you ever observed a baby’s breath? While sleeping you can clearly see how we come into the world slowly, rhythmically, belly breathing. In and out through our noses, one breath falling into another. A good “Eupnea” (normal breathing pattern) goes like this; your diaphragm contracts causing your tummy expand and creating negative air pressure causing air to travel through your nose all the way into your lungs. There is minimal movement of your chest and shoulders. Muscles wrapped around your airways are fully relaxed, allowing airways to be fully dilated. This allows the clear and easy passage of air through them. A typical person breathes at a rate of 12-20 times per minute. Breathing out is passive, due to recoil of your lungs, although you can force it out more quickly.

Breathing is governed by our autonomic nervous system; it happens automatically without conscious thought. However this doesn’t mean we can’t consciously control it to down regulate our response to stress or up regulate for alertness. Our breathing tempo can absolutely influence the way we respond to external stimuli. When we slow our breath down, we slow our production of stress hormones, settle our heart rates, lower blood pressure. Speed it up and feel more awake, alert, ready or stimulated without the need for caffeine. 

I’m going to give you some breathing tools to try – which are just about breathing tempo – and I’d love to know if you find them useful! If you think your breathing pattern may be dysfunctional though, go and see Breathing Works (or similar breath physios in other cities). 

Tempos are expressed like this: Inhale/Hold/Exhale in seconds (X is an explosive breath)

To slow down for the end of the day – and sleep – we need to exhale for longer:
Breathe for 6/4/10 seconds, X 6-8 to calm down or relieve anxiety
8/4/12 secs X 6-8  to meditate/fall asleep

To improve your wakefulness or focus – exhale is quicker:
4/2/6 secs X 6-8 to focus
6/2/X secs X 6- 8 to awaken
4/0/X secs X 6-8 to stimulate

Lastly, “Crocodile Breathing” is a great way to test whether you are using mostly the correct muscles to breathe. You can use it as a short mindful exercise. Lay on your tummy, arms at sides, head to one side or resting your forehead on your hands. If you’ve got kids get them to do it with you and make it a family activity. Inhale deeply through your nose and observe whether your tummy pushes into the floor, to lift your back away from the ground. It should. Focus on this and keeping your chest and shoulders quite relaxed. Use one of the “slow down” tempos above and really pay attention to your breath. Try and stay still as a crocodile, slowing your breathing down more and more as you relax into it.

Published by becsgoldie

Hi, I'm Becs - I'm a Personal Trainer with YEARS of experience (not telling how many); I have 2 kids and a husband and lots of clients who I look after. I've carved out my niche over the years into what I would now like to call wellness, although that's a very general term. I use a combination of nutritional advice, training expertise (resistance and cardiovascular), stretching and core activation techniques, ELDOA (google that) and some mindfulness to help enable people to get the most out of their life. Years ago I completed my Physical Education degree at Otago, and since then have done lots of great courses which have helped me to upskill. I've also had the privilege of working with a bunch of incredible trainers, massage therapists, doctors, physios, osteos and chiropractors over my career who have all added so much to what I know and how I practise.

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