It seems so easy, so natural. We don’t even think about it. Our life starts with one breath and ends with another. In between, well, hundreds of millions. Oxygen comes in, the carbon dioxide goes out, and life goes on.
Well, it is not that simple. Did you ever wonder if you were breathing the right way? And how this facile, mechanic, programmed reflex can profoundly affect your everyday life? Three minutes without it, and it is over. At the same time, over-breathe and your health will fall apart.
Given how critical breathing is, why when people look to make positive changes to their health, the vast majority jump straight to eating less or moving more?
We are all well aware that eating and drinking too much has a profound impact on our bodies. But did you ever think about how much you are breathing and how this will impact your life?
Don’t get me wrong, improving your diet, increasing the amount of exercise you do, and visiting your doctor should be on your list but not thinking about fixing the way you breathe is a massive mistake that can undo all your hard work.
Carbon dioxide and oxygen: a vital connection
Oxygen is life. We use the precious gas to create energy and stay alive. This vital process will produce Carbon Dioxide. You can breathe as much as you want; you will not store more oxygen. Your blood is, at rest, saturated between 96 to 99% with it. But by breathing more, you will, instead, exhale more carbon dioxide.
It is common knowledge to consider CO2 as waste gas, something useless we need to get rid of when it is, in fact, crucial and regulates vital body functions.
It has three primary missions:
1/ It regulates the pH of the blood (https://www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/water-acids-and-bases/acids-bases-and-ph/v/buffer-system)
2/ It breaks the bond between oxygen and hemoglobin, making your body O2 efficient (https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat/organ-systems/hematologic-system/v/bohr-effect-vs-haldane-effect)
3/ It dilates the blood vessels, facilitating the blood flow.(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53082/#:~:text=Effect%20of%20Carbon%20Dioxide,flow%20%5B167%2C168%5D.)
I am sure you can understand why being oxygen efficient is crucial for your health. But what about the acidity (pH) of your blood?
This acidity and your tolerance to it will program the way you breathe. The chemoreceptors in your brain are very sensitive to this acidity. When it reaches a level they dislike, they send a message to your breathing muscles for them to do their job and get rid of it. The less tolerant you are, the faster you will breathe. Breathing fast will lead to inappropriate use of oxygen and poor blood flow. Everything is linked.
Keeping the right amount of carbon dioxide is crucial. Our stressful modern society is unwillingly promoting bad breathing habits. Fast and mouth breathing became the norm.
How to test your CO2 tolerance
1/Take your phone and set the stopwatch mode.
2/Sit or lie down.
3/Breathe Normally through your nose as you do in your everyday life.
4/Take a normal breath in through your nose, then a normal breath out through your nose.
5/Hold your breath and start the stopwatch. You can pinch your nose.
6/ As soon as you feel a desire for air, resume breathing and stop the watch.
7/ Check your result.
How to understand the results?
The bigger your score, the better is your CO2 tolerance and the better you will be at using Oxygen in your body. The opposite is, of course, true.
Under 25s: Your tolerance is bad. During a stressful moment, you will breathe hard. The level of CO2 in your body will drop, the blood vessels will constrict, the brain will get less oxygen and will not function at its best. This will lead to wrong decisions.
Under 35s: Your tolerance is ok. During a stressful moment, you will breathe more. But it will be easier to control your breath and stay calm.
Above 35s: Your tolerance is excellent.
The best way to breathe
It is a gentle, diaphragmatic, active deep breath in through the nose and a soft, relaxed passive breath out through the nose followed by a short natural pause. An average person will breathe around 12 times per minute, each breath being around 0.5l for a total per minute of 6l, but optimum breathing should be even slower, between 6 to 8 breaths per minute. The blood in your lungs is exposed to the air inside your alveoli for three-quarters of a second. The gas transfer must take place within that time. But if you’re breathing hard and fast, it is not giving enough time for the transfer to take place. Therefore, slow breathing is essential.
Where to start?
The two first steps to improve your breathing and to start feeling its benefit are:
- Become aware of your breath
- Consciously control your breath
1/ Become aware of your breath
Seat in a comfortable position. Now observe your breathing.
- Are you breathing through the nose or mouth?
- Are you using mainly your belly or your chest?
- How many times per minute are you breathing?
1/LIGHT: Breathing through your nose is better than your mouth. You should switch to nasal breathing all the time. (The benefits of nasal breathing: https://www.vdfreediving.com/en/archives/7254).
2/DEEP: Breathing using your diaphragm (belly) is better than using your chest. This is deep breathing and the most efficient way for the gas exchange to take place.
3/SLOW: On average, an adult at rest will breathe between 12 to 20 times per minute. However, You should aim for 6 to 8 breaths per minute. (Slow breathing)
2/ Consciously control your breath
A great exercise to master your breath consists of slowing down your breath to reach a cadence of approximately six per minute.
1/Sit in a comfortable position.
2/Place one hand on your belly.
3/As you breathe through your nose, focus on your belly movements.
4/Breath in for a count of four seconds and breathe out for a count of 6 seconds.
5/Keep practicing for 5 minutes.
Learn to breathe right all the time
It takes time to reprogram a physiological reflex. But it is crucial for your well-being. By training your breath, you will feel more energetic; you will sleep better and elevate your spirit.
Start firing up your potential. Start Breathwork.