Yawning man overbreathing

We would all agree that eating too much or drinking too much isn’t good for our health. Neither is breathing too much, but many of us do it without realising it.

Overbreathing is a result of many factors of modern life: stress, anxiety, over-eating, processed foods, sedentary lifestyle, tension, the need to be busy all the time, chronic pain and illness, and more.

For most people the signs of overbreathing are subtle. These can include:

  • regular sighs, sniffs, or coughs
  • unconscious breath holding when concentrating
  • taking large breaths before talking or between sentences (often through the mouth)
  • yawning
  • audible breathing at rest
  • heavy breathing at night
  • visible body movement when breathing, especially in the chest and shoulders

Implications of overbreathing

Overbreathing causes an imbalance in oxygen and carbon dioxide, with a marked reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. When too much CO2 is exhaled, the levels of CO2 in the blood, tissues and cells also reduces.

The decrease in carbon dioxide with overbreathing decreases blood flow to the brain and tissues. CO2 must be present for our red blood cells to release oxygen into the tissues – without it, oxygen molecules ‘stick’ to haemoglobin (known as the Bohr Effect), so even though you’re taking in more oxygen, it’s not getting to where it’s needed in the body. This can lead to brain fog, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, low exercise stamina, and more.

Paper Straw

Heavy breathing causes airways to collapse. If you imagine breathing through a paper straw, if you breathe in hard and fast, the paper straw will collapse. If you breathe gently and smoothly through the straw, it will stay open. Overbreathing at night leads to snoring and sleep apnoea (holding of breath during sleep), and in some cases insomnia. It is impossible to snore when breathing is calm, and when the airways stay open in the night sleep apnoea does not occur.

Carbon dioxide is the ‘relax’ gas. CO2 relaxes the smooth muscle in our airways and blood vessels, allowing for easier flow. CO2 is also associated with stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system – or the ‘rest and digest’ mode. Low levels of CO2 can contribute to anxiety and panic attacks (which is why people breathe into a paper bag – to bring up their levels of CO2), and it can constrict the blood flow to the brain via the carotid artery.

Correct your breathing

Breathing should be smooth, silent, and slow. It should be done only through the nose, not the mouth, and into the lower part of the lungs (diaphragmatic breathing), not shallowly into the chest. Observe your breathing throughout the day, and if you catch yourself overbreathing, correct yourself. The more you are aware of dysfunctional breathing and correct it, the more functional your breathing becomes by habit.

If you are feeling anxious, stressed, or light headed, take a few minutes to slow down your breathing, taking in a little less oxygen and extending your exhales slightly longer than your inhales. Count to yourself as you inhale quietly and slowly for a count of 4, and exhale smoothly for a count of 6. Breathe in through your nose, deep into the belly, nice and slowly.

Retrain your breathing habits

We are born knowing how to breathe correctly. Something happens along the way which contributes to unhealthy breathing habits which can be difficult to break. Functional breath retraining can help undo these habits and create new, healthier ones which have long term systemic health benefits.

Get in touch today for help with retraining your breathing:

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Running with Nasal Breathing

Do you experience shortness of breath, a tight chest, coughing or sore throat, or less than optimal endurance during exercise, which even continues for a short period after the activity ends?

These are symptoms of EIB – exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. EIB is most often due to mouth breathing during exercise. When we breathe through our mouths, air is drier and colder, which causes the air passages (specifically the bronchi) to constrict. Our noses are designed to humidify and regulate the temperature of the air we are breathing, and so we lose those benefits when we bypass the nose and breathe through the mouth. We also make ourselves more vulnerable to illness as the nose filters particles in the air.

An article published in the Journal of Sports Research in 2020 examined the effects of nasal breathing during exercise in a review of 30 published studies. The article concludes that breathing nasally during exercise exclusively is achievable for most people during moderate aerobic exercise without too much adaptation, and that it is possible to achieve this during high intensity exercise with training and practice. Researchers summarised the benefits of nasal breathing as, ‘a reduction in exercise induced bronchoconstriction, improved ventilatory efficiency, and lower physiological economy for a given level or work.’

The Oxygen Advantage method (I am an Oxygen Advantage certified instructor) of breathing strongly advocates for nasal breathing during exercise to improve performance and reduce exercise related health issues such as EIB. Contact me to improve your breathing during exercise.

Download the article: https://tinyurl.com/2p9fnchf

Reference: Dallam, G. & Kies, B. (2020). “The Effect of Nasal Breathing Versus Oral and Oronasal Breathing During Exercise: A Review”, Journal of Sports Research. 7 (10).18488/journal.90.2020.71.1.10.
adult using asthma inhaler

Buteyko breathing is a therapy which teaches specific breathing exercises to improve asthma and other respiratory disorders. In addition to breathing techniques, the complex Buteyko method also includes advice and education about medication use, nutrition and exercise, and relaxation / stress management.

The Buteyko Breathing Technique (BBT) is now recognized in many asthma management guidelines and reports from around the world as a therapy that can help manage the symptoms of asthma. The BTS/SIGN Asthma Management Guideline 2019 recommended that “Behavioural programmes centred on breathing exercises and dysfunctional breathing reduction techniques … should ideally be provided as part of integrated medical care.

Clinical trials have shown that BBT can allow safe reduction of reliever medication usage, without determent to lung function, but with an improvement in asthma symptoms and without an increase in adverse effects such as exacerbations, A+E visits or hospital admissions.

BBT can help subjects with asthma correctly identify asthma symptoms and use their reliever inhaler appropriately, improving their ability to self-manage.

How does it work? By practicing BBT clients learn to breathe properly and efficiently, which can help prevent issues such as wheezing, coughing, and breathlessness. It can also help to clear nasal passages.

In most instances, the Buteyko Technique can successfully be taught to asthma clients in approximately 5 sessions, with the client committing to daily breathwork practice in-between. Clients often notice significant improvement in their symptoms early into the programme, and mostly experience a significant decrease in reliever inhaler usage, with many clients not needing to use the reliever at all, even during high intensity exercise.

Using the techniques of Oxygen Advantage, the Buteyko Breathing Technique can be taken a step further with improvements in exercise stamina and overall fitness.

The Research

BBT is often used to prevent over-breathing, which is often connected with asthma. Hyperventilation can lead to hypocapnia (also known as hypocarbia) (a decrease in alveolar and blood carbon dioxide  levels below the normal reference range of 35 mmHg) and respiratory alkalosis (when high levels of carbon dioxide disrupt the blood’s acid-base balance).

In 2008, a randomised controlled trial of the Buteyko technique was conducted in a group of adults with asthma. The control group was trained by a physiotherapist in breathing and relaxation techniques. The researchers concluded that six months after the study was completed, both groups showed improved control of their asthma along with a reduction in inhaled corticosteroid use in the Buteyko group.

A review was conducted in 2005 of all of the research to date on the Buteyko Technique for asthma control – which admittedly was not many. Included in this paper was a table summarising the outcomes of the various studies included in the review (see table one below). Results of these studies with regards to the BBT method include decreased medication use, decreased minute ventilation, increased quality of life, decreased symptoms, and increased end tidal carbon dioxide (the level of carbon dioxide that is released at the end of an exhaled breath).

In a study, published by Bowler et al the Buteyko method was compared with traditional asthma education and general breathing exercises in a randomised group of participants – 20 in the control group and 19 in the Buteyko. Participants in all groups were encouraged to use their reliever (beta-agonist) only when asthma symptoms were present. Preventer (corticosteroid) medicines were gradually reduced if the patient remained stable. Those treated with Buteyko needed their reliever inhalers less often (median reduction of 904 micrograms in the Buteyko group and 57 micrograms in the control), and there was a trend towards lower inhaled corticosteroid use (49% reduction in the Buteyko group vs 0% in the control). Quality of Life scores generally improved in the Buteyko group.

In 2003 McHugh et al broadly replicated the findings of Bowler et al. In this study, 19 participants received training in Buteyko, and 19 received traditional asthma education and relaxation techniques. The Buteyko group reduced their reliever usage by 85% (37% in the control group), and their inhaled corticosteroid dose by 50% (0% in the control group).

Book an enquiry call or a session if you would like to learn how to manage your asthma symptoms with Buteyko breathing.

Basketball Image Tim Mossholder

New research published on 25th November in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness offers further proof that nasal breathing is a great way to optimize sports performance and well-being.

Researchers studied 34 male basketball players over a six-week period, giving the participants in the experimental group a programme of reduced breathing and intermittent running exercises using nasal-only breathing.

Both groups were tested for performance markers including:

  • Repeated sprint ability via the shuttle sprint test
  • Fitness, using the Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test level one (measurement of an individual’s ability to repeatedly perform high-intensity aerobic work)
  • Lung function, measured as Forced Expiratory Volume in One Second (the amount of air forcibly released in the first second of exhaling), Forced Vitality Capacity (spirometry measurement of the amount of air that can be forcibly exhaled after taking a deep breath), and Peak Expiratory Flow (the volume of air forcefully expelled from the lungs in one quick exhalation)

The researchers concluded that nasal breathing during training may be beneficial for young basketball players, leading to “remarkable improvements in both physical fitness and pulmonary function”.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34821493/


Reference: Cavoggioni, L. Trecroci, A. Formenti, D. et al. (2021). “Effects of a nasal breathing protocol on physical fitness and pulmonary function in young basketball players”, Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, Nov 25.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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Kirtan Kriya is a simple meditation technique practiced as part of Kundalini yoga which is thought to have many health benefits, including improving memory, focus, and cognition as well as reducing the effects of stress and anxiety.

Kundalini yoga is a form of yoga that involves chanting, singing, breathing exercises, and repetitive poses which activate a spiritual energy located at the base of your spine. It is sometimes referred to as ‘yoga of awareness’ as it helps enhance your awareness and move past your ego. With regular practice, Kundalini yoga is believed to lead to spiritual enlightenment.

Kirtan Kriya meditation helps to stimulate the senses and activate parts of the brain. The practice combines chanting and finger movements. Kirtan Kriya meditation focuses on making four primal sounds: Saa Taa Naa Maa, which translates as Saa – Beginning, infinity; Taa – Life; Naa – Death; and Maa – Rebirth (the circle of life) (Kumari and Karunaratne, 2021). The placement of the tongue in the mouth when making these sounds stimulates 84 acupuncture meridian points on the palate which stimulates the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and other areas in the brain.

While chanting the sounds of the mantra Saa Taa Naa Maa, the thumb moves along the tips of the fingers with a firm but gentle pressure starting first with the index finger for Saa, then the middle finger for Taa, the ring finger for Naa, and the pinky finger for Maa.

The combined finger pressure and mantra chanting enhance blood flow to the brain. It is believed to improve cognition, focus, and memory.

Traditional Kirtan Kriya practice dictates the mantra and accompanying hand movements be repeated first in a normal voice for two minutes, then a whisper for two minutes, then silently chanted in your mind for four minutes, then again whispered for two minutes, and chanted loudly for the final two minutes. After the 12-minute meditation, stretch arms up while inhaling deeply, then exhale and relax the arms (see the detailed instructions below). The eyes should be closed, spine straight, and arms relaxed with the hands placed on the thighs or knees throughout the meditation.

The science

Kundalini yoga was first mentioned in sacred texts dating back to 1000BC, but what does modern science say about its benefits? Research on meditation is still in its infancy but studies on meditation and benefits to cognition are promising.

A study published in 2021 in International Journal of Health Sciences and Research found that Kirtan Kriya can help to improve cognition, memory, and psychological well-being. It also proved beneficial in treating patients with stress and anxiety. (Kumari and Karunaratne, 2021)

A study on the effects of kundalini yoga on participants with memory problems concluded that “significant increases were found in the cerebral blood flow ratios in the prefrontal, superior frontal, and superior parietal cortices ( P < 0.05)” (Khalsa, 2015). Participants completing the study reported increased memory function. (Khalsa, 2015)

A study on dementia caregivers randomized to receive either Kirtan Kriya meditation or relaxing music for 12 minutes daily for 8 weeks showed improved markers of stress and inflammation in the meditation group. Those receiving Kirtan Kriya displayed changes in gene expression including up-regulated immunoglobulin-related transcripts and down-regulated pro-inflammatory cytokines. Researchers concluded that brief daily Kirtan Kriya may reverse increased pro-inflammatory cytokine activity in individuals with significant life stressors. (Black et al., 2013)

Kirtan Kriya technique

  • With your eyes closed, repeat the Saa Taa Naa Maa mantra while sitting with your spine straight.
  • If possible, with each syllable, your focus of concentration is imagining the sound and energy flowing in through the top of your head and out the middle of your forehead.
  • Chant Saa, Taa, Naa, Maa out loud for two minutes.
    • On Saa, touch the index fingers of each hand to your thumbs.
    • On Taa, touch your middle fingers to your thumbs.
    • On Naa, touch your ring fingers to your thumbs.
    • On Maa, touch your little fingers to your thumbs.
  • Chant this as a whisper for two minutes.
  • For four minutes, say the chant silently to yourself.
  • Chant in a whisper for two minutes.
  • Chant out loud for two minutes.
  • To end the exercise, inhale very deeply, stretch your hands above your head, and bring them down slowly in a sweeping motion as you exhale. The exercise should take 12 minutes.

(Albert, 2018)

To learn more about Kirtan Kriya, or to be taken through a guided meditation,

or watch the video below:


References:

Albert, A. (2018). “Meditation: The effects of Kirtan Kriya are instant – all care homes should do it”. Online: https://tinyurl.com/537rts8v

Black, D.S. Cole, S.W. Irwin, M.R. et. al. (2013). “Yogic meditation reverses NF-κB and IRF-related transcriptome dynamics in leukocytes of family dementia caregivers in a randomized controlled trial”, Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38(3), pp. 348-355).

Khalsa D. (2015). “Stress, meditation and Alzheimer’s disease prevention: Where the evidence stands”, J Alzheimers Dis., 48, pp. 1-12.

Kumari, M.G.W.R. and Karunaratne, H.K.B.M.S. (2021). “A review on therapeutic effect of kirtan kriya yoga”, Int J Health Sci Res., 11(1), pp. 240-247.

Breath Therapy Slider Image - man breathing

Inhaling AND exhaling through the nose at rest, sleep, and during exercise allows for many benefits:

  • Because the nose is significantly smaller than the mouth, the nose provides more resistance to airflow than the mouth when it comes to breathing. This results in greater oxygen uptake in the blood. More oxygen in the blood results in more oxygen in your organs, tissues, and cells. Slower exhalations through the nose allows for greater extraction of oxygen by the lungs and an optimal exchange of carbon dioxide which helps to maintain blood pH.
  • Due to the resistance of the airflow, air enters the nose at a slower rate, allowing for slower and deeper breathing which engages the diaphragm and calms the mind and body.
  • The nose is an integral part of your body’s immune system and is a first line of defence against pathogens. The nose both filters and warms the air before it gets to the lungs. The nose is lined with mucus and protective hairs (known as cilia) which trap small particles, viruses, bacteria, dust, and dirt before they can enter your body.
  • Glands in your nose and throat produce approximately one to two quarts of mucus each day. The mucus in the nasal cavity keeps the airways moist and helps to prevent dehydration. Even just exhaling through the mouth causes over 40% more water lost, along with the loss of heat, leading to inflammation, stuffiness, and dehydration.
  • Nasal breathing helps to prevent nasal congestion, which in turn makes breathing through the nose easier. It may seem counterintuitive to breathe through your nose if your nose is blocked, but nostril breathing helps to keep the airways clear.
  • Air inhaled through the nose passes over the nasal mucosa which stimulates reflex nerves and helps to control respiratory rate. This system is bypassed when breathing through the mouth.
  • The nasal cavity houses olfactory epithelium, which contain smell receptors which send signals along the olfactory nerve to the olfactory bulb, These signals are then interpreted by your brain – the hypothalamus specifically – which is linked to automatic functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, appetite, and thirst.
  • Nitric Oxide (NO), a vasodilator gas (meaning it relaxes the inner muscles of your blood vessels), is produced in the paranasal sinuses during nasal breathing. NO is one of the most important molecules for blood vessel health – it causes the vessels to widen and so increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure.
  • Nasal breathing improves vagal tone. The vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve, and it carries signals from the digestive system and organs to the brain and vice versa. The vagus nerve represents the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system overseeing control of the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. Vagal tone is the measure of the strength or weakness of the vagus nerve.

If you habitually breathe through your mouth during the day, while you sleep, or while you exercise, you would greatly benefit from breath retraining. Book a consultation today to change the way you breathe!