Written by Mercola
Most people will tell you to take a deep breath to calm yourself down. However, this strategy can actually have the opposite effect.
When you’re stressed, your breath becomes faster, deeper and noisier, you breathe more often through your mouth and you tend to breathe with your upper chest rather than your diaphragm.
As noted by McKeown, it simply doesn’t make sense to amplify your current breathing pattern if you want to bring yourself from a state of stress to a state of calm. To induce calm, you need to breathe slowly, using the diaphragm. You also want to breathe less, and breathing through your nose is key.
Your nose actually directs 30 different functions in your body. Nerves in your nasal passages (which connect to your hypothalamus) sense everything about your breathing and use that information to regulate your bodily functions.
For example, your nose releases nitric oxide (NO) during breathing, which is carried from your nose into your lungs. NO is a gas that plays a significant role in homeostasis (maintaining of balance) within your body.
NO also sterilizes the air carried into your lungs, opens up the airways and increases the amount of oxygen taken up in your blood. You were born to breathe through your nose, yet many develop dysfunctional breathing patterns that lead to mouth breathing.
This in turn can result in other health problems, including asthma. As a result of feeling like you’re not getting enough air, asthmatics tend to breathe heavier, and when you increase the breathing volume coming into your lungs, it causes a loss of carbon dioxide (CO2).
The Importance of Carbon Dioxide Homeostasis
Contrary to popular belief, CO2 is not merely a waste gas. Although you breathe to get rid of excess CO2, it’s important to maintain a certain amount of CO2 in your lungs, and for that you need to maintain a normal breathing volume.
When too much CO2 is lost through heavy breathing, it causes the smooth muscles embedded in your airways to constrict. When this happens, there is a feeling of not getting enough air and the natural reaction is to breathe more intensely.
But this simply causes an even greater loss of CO2, which constricts your airway even further. In this way, asthma symptoms feed back to the condition, and to remedy the situation you need to break this negative feedback loop by breathing through your nose and breathing less.
Also, while most believe that taking bigger breaths through your mouth allows you to take more oxygen into your body, which should make you feel better and more clear-headed, the opposite actually happens.
Deep breathing tends to make you feel a bit light-headed, and this is due to eliminating too much CO2 from your lungs, which causes your blood vessels to constrict. So, the heavier you breathe, the less oxygen is actually delivered throughout your body.
Overbreathing and mouth breathing also tend to go hand-in-hand with snoring and/or sleep apnea; conditions that decimate your sleep quality. This too contributes to the downward health spiral associated with improper breathing.
Less Is More When It Comes to Breathing
Breathing through your nose and breathing less is the answer to all of these problems. According to medical textbooks, normal breathing volume is between 4 and 7 liters of air per minute, which translates into 12 to 14 breaths.
Clinical trials involving asthmatics show they breathe between 10 to 15 liters of air per minute, and people with chronic heart disease tend to breathe between 15 to 18 liters of air per minute.
This suggests breathing less is a sign of better health. Conversely, the more you breathe, the more likely you are to experience significant health problems. Your tolerance to CO2 is part of this equation, as good CO2 tolerance equates to higher levels of health and fitness.
When your body and brain have a normal CO2 tolerance, your breathing will be light and smooth as your body is not constantly trying to rid itself of excess CO2. Contrary to popular belief, the primary stimulant signaling your body to take a breath is not lack of oxygen; it’s an excess CO2.
You always need a certain amount of CO2 for normal functioning. If you have normal CO2, you will have good tolerance to it, which translates into a higher breath-hold time (the length of time you can hold your breath). Also, when you exercise, your body generates more CO2, and if you have good tolerance to it, your breathing rate will remain much lower than someone who has a poor tolerance to CO2.
Keywords; Breathing, oxygen, Buteyko
Patrick McKeown is one of the top teachers of the Buteyko method — a breathing method named after the Russian physician who developed it. McKeown has been teaching the Buteyko Breathing Method full-time in his native Ireland and abroad for over a dozen years.