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We take many things for granted my friends. Perhaps, arguably, the most taken for granted natural thing in this world is our ability to breathe. Nobody ever really notices it, until something goes wrong. Yes, there is such a thing as unhealthy breathing. Unhealthy breathing lays down the foundation for a lot of respiratory problems.
Types of Breathing To Become Familiar With
In order to understand what unhealthy breathing is, you must first understand the kinds of breathing. For health and practical reasons, there are two main types; abdominal and chest breathing.
Abdominal Breathing (Healthy Breathing).
You specifically use your diaphragm for this type of breathing. That’s why it’s also called diaphragmatic breathing. When you inhale, your diaphragm moves downward and contracts, while your abdomen expands. Your lungs expand fully when you breathe in this manner. Oxygen travels to the part of your lungs where blood vessels are the most concentrated. Then maximum oxygenation is achieved and the O2 is delivered to your heart and other parts of your body.
When you exhale, your diaphragm and abdomen go back to their original positions and relax, releasing carbon dioxide into the environment. The problem is most of us don’t breathe like this, instead we chest breathe. To be able to breathe abdominally naturally, we must first accomplish and practice it consciously.
Chest Breathing (Unhealthy Breathing).
This is the kind of breathing most of us are familiar with, but don’t really notice. We use our intercostal muscles which are located between our ribs for this type of breathing. Some experts call this costal breathing.
Chest breathing is primarily intended to aid diaphragmatic breathing during the flight or fight response. So during periods of stress and anxiety we use this type of breathing. Unfortunately many of us experience stress on a daily basis. So we make chest breathing a mainstay, while abdominal breathing is delegated to near extinction status.
Chest breathing doesn’t allow air to reach the deeper parts of the lung perfused with the most blood (the lower parts, the ones sitting on the diaphragm). It only supplies the middle regions, thus creating what doctors call a ventilation/perfusion mismatch. Simply put, a large portion of oxygen (ventilation) doesn’t reach the area where the greatest amount of blood is (perfused region). For this reason chest breathing is known as unhealthy breathing.
Additionally, you may also encounter these two other types of breathing, mouth or nose breathing.
Nose breathing (breathing through your nose)
is also categorised as a type of healthy breathing. Your nasal sinuses warm and filter the air, conditioning it ready for your lungs. Your nose also filters the air of dust, pollen, bacteria and other particles much more effectively than your mouth. Also exhalation is the time when your lungs receive the most oxygen from the air. Breathing through your nose slows down the escape of air allowing more time for your lungs to take up the oxygen.
Mouth breathing (breathing through your mouth)
is regarded as unhealthy breathing. Air entering through your mouth is not well filtered so irritants and bacteria can easily get into your body. Mouth breathing also promotes shallow, chest breathing.As we’ve already learnt earlier, chest breathing means our lungs cannot extract as much oxygen from the air.
This in turn causes a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream and to the tissues. Poor oxygenation can cause fatigue, poor concentration and headaches. According to the latest research, mouth breathing also causes sleep difficulties, and high blood pressure. But that’s not all, mouth breathing also increases your risk of dental cavities, gingivitis, gum disease and bad breath. Aagh.
The Benefits of Healthy Breathing
In the book entitled Conscious Breathing, the author clearly stated the important health benefits of learning to breathe consciously (healthy abdominal breathing). These include:
- Tension and stress reduction
- Better control of your emotions especially during depression and anxiety
- Prevention of respiratory and cardiovascular problems
- More energy
- Sharpened mental focus
- Increased physical performance
Note: Conversely, if you want to know the negative effects of unhealthy breathing to your overall health, simply think about the opposite of the above benefits. Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it.
Another book portraying healthy breathing, entitled Breathing: The Master Key to Self-Healing, vividly discusses how you can positively influence your nervous system through proper breathing exercises. If you combine some of the concepts in these two books, you’ll realise that practicing breathing exercises regularly trains your mind (brainstem where your respiratory centre is) to breathe consciously. As time passes, you’ll learn to breathe in a healthy manner NATURALLY.
Breathing Techniques: Improve Your Breathing with This Short Breathing Exercise
- 1. Lie flat on the ground. Put your left hand on your chest, your right hand on your abdomen.
- 2. Inhale through your nose. Your right hand should rise higher than your left hand. This means that your diaphragm is sucking in a greater volume of air. Then exhale through your nose.
- 3. Now, inhale deeply and slowly through your nose. Hold it in for 7 seconds. On the 8th second, exhale fully through your nose, contracting your abdominal muscles (your “abs”) to eliminate the air from your lungs.
- 4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 for a total of five times.
The main goal of this exercise is to increase the amount of air you breathe in and practice healthy abdominal, nose breathing. When you familiarise yourself with this short breathing exercise, imagine breathing in positive thoughts and energy whenever you inhale and expelling negative thoughts, stress and anxiety when you exhale. If you practice this every morning before work, you will feel more relaxed and energised for the day ahead. You might also notice that you start breathing this way naturally throughout the day.
Note: While there are many breathing exercises out there, abdominal breathing is at the top of the list and the best one to learn first before you proceed to other breathing exercises.
Practice combining abdominal breathing with nose breathing for maximum efficiency and oxygen uptake. You will be surprised how much better you will feel when you master this!
- Hendricks, Gay. Conscious Breathing: Breathwork for Health, Stress Release, and Personal Mastery. New York: Bantam Books, 1995. Print.
- Weil, Andrew. Breathing: The Master Key to Self-Healing: The Benefits of Breathwork. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 1999. Print.
- Rakel, David. Integrative Medicine. W.B. Saunders, Philadelphia, PA. 2003. Print.
- Loscalzo, Joseph, and Tinsley R. Harrison. Harrison’s Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical, 2013. Print.
- Weinberger, Steven E., Barbara A. Cockrill, and Jess Mandel. Principles of Pulmonary Medicine. Philadelphia: Elsevier/Saunders, 2014. Print.
- West, John B. Respiratory Physiology: The Essentials. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012. Print.
- World Health Statistics 2011. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2011. Print.