Do you know how you breathe?
We take one of the most important aspects of life so for granted that we pay no attention to it unless it is suddenly taken away from us. Exercise-induced asthma, lack of sleep, anxiety and incorrect breathing deprive every active person, athlete, recreational or elite, of an enjoyable and the best performance possible.
Dysfunctional breathing is as simple as unconscious over breathing. Shallow mouth breathing into the upper chest vs gentle nasal breathing by fully activating the diaphragm can mean the difference between the struggle to be active and relaxing into enjoyable exercise and competition.
How we breathe by day is how we breathe at night. Our breathing brain center does not switch modes when we go to sleep. If we walk around all day breathing through our mouths, we will sleep with our mouths open. Have you ever woken up with a dry sticky mouth? Do you snore or toss and turn frequently?
When we become stressed, breathing increases. How do we treat chronic hyperventilation or a panic attack? The nose and mouth are covered so that we breathe in the air that we are exhaling.
But what happens during hyperventilation and why do we recover by this method? The regulation of breathing is determined by receptors in the brain which monitor the concentration of carbon dioxide along with the ph level and to a lesser extent oxygen in your blood. During exhalation, we exhale excess Carbon Dioxide (CO²). During hyperventilation (or over breathing) we get rid of too much CO². By placing a bag over your mouth and nose we breathe in more CO² to regain equilibrium and breathing can return to normal. We do not, however, have to be chronically hyperventilating to be over breathing.
Typical signs of over breathing through the mouth:
• Hearing breathing during rest
• Sigh regularly
• Regular sniffing
• Taking large breaths prior to talking
• Yawning with big breaths
• Upper chest movement
• Lots of visible movement
Breathing should be light, quiet, effortless, and soft, through the nose, diaphragmatic, rhythmic and gently paused on the exhale. This is how a sleeping infant breaths! Taking large gulps of air does not mean more O². So how is breathing light more beneficial to an active person or recreational and elite athlete who is constantly looking for more Oxygen?
Simply put, the more CO² we can tolerate, the less we have to breathe. The arterial blood in any healthy individual is already saturated with Oxygen (O²). Blood O² saturation is between 96 and 99%. How we get the blood O² into the muscle is key! The more CO² we exhale, the more alkaline the ph becomes. In a less acidic state, haemoglobin hangs onto O² and the less the O² transfer to the muscle. However, with the more CO² present, creating a slightly more acidic environment, haemoglobin will dump its O² – this is known as the Bohr Effect.