Do you know how to breathe? Of course, you do. You’ve been breathing all your life. But, are you breathing correctly and maximizing the benefits of oxygen and carbon dioxide? That’s right, the evil carbon dioxide that causes global warming is as indispensable to life as oxygen.
Did you know that the average man takes 17,000 breaths per day and roughly takes in 13 pints of air every minute? Most people can hold their breath for about a minute or two, but a trained free-diver can go twenty minutes or more without taking a breath. That’s quite a difference!
The art of breathing is an ancient practice, and many cultures believe that life is measured in breaths, not years. The most valuable yet overlooked health marker of longevity is not diet, exercise, cholesterol, or blood sugar. It’s lung capacity.
The question of proper breathing comes down to a few fundamental principles: Do you breathe through your mouth or your nose, do you maintain the appropriate posture for breathing, and are you breathing too much?
Are you a mouth breather?
You may not realize that you’re a mouth breather. Some people breathe through their mouths habitually, but mainly it occurs during sleep.
If you snore, drool on your pillow, wake up with a dry mouth, or get up to pee a couple of times per night, you’re probably a mouth breather. Also, people who inhaled through their mouths during their developmental years often have what’s considered a weak chin. A weak chin is not the kind that can’t take a punch but one that recedes due to a less developed lower jaw bone.
If you think breathing through your mouth is no big deal, think again. Research shows that mouth breathing causes;
- Bad breath
- Nasal obstruction
- Sleep apnea
- Facial deformities
- Cavities and gingivitis
- Misaligned teeth
- Poor sleep
Breathing through your nose filters and humidifies the air before entering the lungs. It also promotes proper lung function by cooling or warming the air you breathe. More importantly, nose breathing is your system’s primary source of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide promotes blood flow, reduces inflammation, and boosts your immune system.
Mouth breathing while awake is habitual and preventable with conscious effort. Pay attention to your breathing, especially at the gym. Whenever you feel the need for extra oxygen, it’s okay to take a big gulp through your mouth but try not to make it continuous.
While you’re asleep, the best defense against mouth breathing is taping your mouth shut. Please don’t go and grab a roll of duct tape from your workbench and slap it across your face unless you’re not a fan of your lips. Use a gentle micropore tape or specially designed mouth tape. Both of these options are available on Amazon in several varieties and price points.
Do you slouch?
By constantly slumping over, you limit your ability to access your diaphragm, and your breaths shorten. We’re not only talking about people with bad overall posture but those of us sitting at a computer for hours or tilting our heads to check our phone a couple of hundred times per day.
Believe it or not, all that forward lean of your upper body is a form of mild suffocation. Think about an athlete completing an exhaustive competition. Do they lean forward to get more oxygen, or do they tilt their head back and raise their arms overhead for recovery?
Have you noticed the need to yawn more while sitting at your desk? That’s your brain signaling that it needs more oxygen. When you limit the body’s ability to use the diaphragm and breathe into the belly, it recruits your neck and chest muscles to expand the rib cage, creating more room for the lungs. Your neck muscles are not suited for the task of breathing, and their inefficiency creates headaches, jaw, and neck fatigue.
To correct the posture of suffocation, standing rigidly with your shoulders back like a soldier at attention is not necessary. Sure, pulling the shoulders back and pushing the chest forward helps a lot, but the alignment of the head has the most significant impact on breathing.
With all the devices in today’s world, humans adopted an unnatural forward head lean. Instead of using our spine to support our heads, we rely on the muscles of our neck. Considering how much we use our neck muscles, we should all look like the Incredible Hulk from the shoulders up.
Since we are using so many devices, let’s make them work for us a bit. Using your phone, set the alarm for every 30-minutes as a reminder to correct your posture at your desk. When gazing at the small screen of your phone, hold it directly in front of you instead of below your chest.
Keeping it low is more comfortable for your arms but terrible for your neck and respiration. As an added benefit of holding your phone higher, you’ll either get more muscular arms or use your phone less. That’s a win-win scenario!
How much are you breathing?
“What the vast majority of us are doing is we are breathing too many breaths, we’re breathing too often and too much air.” – James Nestor, author of Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art.
If life is truly measured in breaths, not years, then breathing less should improve your longevity. Too many of us take a lot of short breaths, and too few know how to breathe deeply. What we’re doing is offloading too much carbon dioxide.
When a person starts to hyperventilate (breath too quickly), what are you supposed to do? The standard remedy for hyperventilation is breathing into a paper bag. You perform this bag trick to re-breathe your exhaled carbon dioxide.
The balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, like everything in life, is the key to optimal performance. When you exercise, your muscles burn oxygen at a higher rate, so you gasp for air. The problem is that most of us live in a state of sedentary, chronic hyperventilation.
Interestingly, ancient practices like that in The Bhagavad Gita and Ave Maria maintain a similar breathing cadence to what current research recommends. The ideal rhythm for breathing is about ten complete breaths per minute. That’s the equivalent of a 5.5 to 6 second inhale followed by the same duration exhale on each breath.
Initially, timing your inhales and exhales takes conscious effort but eventually becomes a natural cadence. You may find it awkward and feel like you’re over-breathing, but you also may experience mild euphoria and increased energy. Once again, set a reminder to practice timed breathing at least a few times per day and whenever it comes to mind.
The Next Level
If you want to take your breathing, performance, and longevity to the next level, check out this week’s Revactin newsletter, where we detail the famous Wim Hof Method of breathing.
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Take care, even down there.
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