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Better Breathing: The Key to Perfect Health

Updated on July 24, 2013

Proper Breathing Solves Life's Problems

“All chronic pain, suffering and diseases are caused from a lack of oxygen at the cell level." ~Prof. A.C. Guyton, MD, The Textbook of Medical Physiology

Here's something to think about:

In 1931, Otto Warburg won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for proving that cancer can only survive in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment. His experiments proved the astounding importance of oxygen, or lack thereof, by consistently demonstrating that most cancerous cells die in an environment where oxygen is present.

Later on, other physicians and scientists would confirm the overwhelmingly central role that oxygen and breathing play in your body’s quest for wellness. In fact, over 24 different medical studies in the past 30 years have confirmed that a common symptom of virtually every health problem is breathing in too much air.

The goal of this article is to demonstrate that, despite popular opinion, breathing in more air actually doesn't increase the level of oxygen in your body. Instead, it's actually an extremely dangerous, potentially life-threatening habit.

Breathing in a higher quantity of air is the single cause, and necessary prerequisite, for a majority of chronic diseases, mental illnesses, and other life problems.

You Are Always Breathing

Whether you’re awake or asleep, your body is breathing 24/7.

According to medical records, the amount of oxygen normal people inhale every minute has more than doubled since the 1930s. Back then, people would typically breathe in just under 5 Liters of oxygen every minute. Now, people breathe in around 12.

In medical lingo, this heavy breathing is known as hyperventiliation. Rather than this condition being the temporary problem solved by breathing into a bag, it’s your body’s natural way of breathing 24/7, and it’s slowly killing you.

In Breathe Well, Be Well, Dr. Robert Fried writes all about the effects of hyperventiliation and its relationship to both illnesses and chronic diseases. His book presents a collection of evidence from 18 years of continual investigation into the subject. If this subject intrigues you, I would highly recommend this book.

The Miraculous Lymphatic System

“It is of [great] detriment for the patient not to recognize the relationship between over-breathing and their symptoms” ~Gregory Magarian, The Journal of Medicine

Any medical textbook you read will illustrate the central importance of the lymphatic system in maintaining your health.

Your lymphatic system plays two quintessential roles:

First, the lymph fluid acts as a 24/7 waste manager. As blood cells travel throughout your body, they release their toxic materials, dead cells, and other excess products at various dumping sites, called lymph nodes.

Approximately 60% of these nodes exist around your diaphragm and they require massaging from your diaphragm in order to function appropriately. The problem most people have, which I’ll get into later, is that they only breathe into their chest and don’t stretch their diaphragm at all. This condition is called shallow breathing.

Shallow breathing is problematic because lymph cells only perform their job of collecting these harmful biological byproducts when they are massaged in some way (typically by an organ, like the diaphragm, as it moves).

Even though your Lymphatic System is twice the size and volume of your Circulatory System, your body contains no central operating pump for this vital lymph fluid. Instead, this lymphatic fluid travels through your body in response to muscular movement, gravity, and, most importantly, breathing.

Second, the lymph nodes act as local doctors. Your lymph nodes produce bacteria-fighting substances (e.g. white blood cells, lymphocytes, and antibodies) that hunt and destroy abnormal cells, such as cancer cells and viruses.

The best part is that your lymphatic system specializes in preventative medicine, identifying the signals of danger before they cause physical problems!

The Consequence of Shallow Breathing

“We can live a long time without food, a couple of days without drinking, but life without breath is measured in minutes” ~Ancient Yogi

John West, in his landmark book Respiratory Physiology, demonstrates that another problem with shallow breathing is a huge inefficiency in oxygen transport. He shows that while the upper 10% of the lungs transport less than 6mL of oxygen per minute, the lower 10% transports more than 40mL of oxygen per minute when saturated.

Consequently, when you breathe shallowly into your lungs, your body processes the oxygen over 6 times less efficiently!

This physiological condition (shallow breathing) is the main reason why people need to breathe a higher quantity of air.

Shallow Breathing and Hypocapnia

"Breathing is the first place not the last place one should investigate when any disordered energy presents itself" Sheldon Saul Hendler, MD, PhD, The Oxygen Breakthrough

Now, here’s where the story takes a turn, literally, from the inhale to the exhale.

Here’s a fact: When you breathe in more air, you also have to breathe out more air. And if you breathe shallowly, then your body is actually not getting any extra oxygen (since the bottom, most efficient part of the lungs, aren’t really working). Instead, you are only breathing out extra Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

Low levels of CO2, a condition called hypocapnia, is a very serious condition that affects virtually every part of your body.

First, According to Dr. Kashiba at Keio University in Tokyo and Dr. Djurberg, CO2 is one of the most potent, natural vasodilation agents known to man.

In other words, when you have low levels of CO2, your veins, arteries, and peripheral blood vessels constrict and massively reduce the blood flow to every organ of your body. Multiple medical studies have proven the effects of hypocapnia on each individual organ as well as the body as a whole.

Shallow Breathing and Mental Illness

In addition to restricting blood flow, low CO2 creates mental conditions that resemble and encourage mental illness.

In 1988, physiologists researching at Duke University discovered that “the brain, by regulating breathing, controls its own excitability.”

(Read the experiment here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1192044/)

This research indicates that poor breathing is the primary cause of delusions, mood swings, phobias, and other mental illnesses.

In other words, when someone breathes shallowly, their blood vessels constrict and cannot transport oxygen to the brain in any efficient manner. As a result, the brain becomes “excitable” and starts to activate random neural pathways.

Now, the degree to which your brain is excitable is the extent that you will mistake any delusion/fantasy/daydream for reality.

So, let’s say you happen to have the passing thought that a lion lurks around the next corner.

If your brain is healthy and normal, you can easily ignore this idea and continue walking without hesitation. The thought arises and quickly dissipates.

If your brain is highly excitable, on the other hand, then you will not only firmly believe that the lion is around the corner, but you might immediately have a real physical reaction to that thought, such as a panic or heart attack.

Even if the consequences aren’t that severe every time, you can imagine how truly distracting and annoying having an excitable brain could be.

But, don’t get this idea confused with the results of studies like “'Normal' CO2 Levels Slow Brain Function,” by Charles Bankhead and Dr. Jasmer. Studies like this one indicate that raising CO2 levels in the outside environment is dangerous.

The argument I present, rather, is that while the environment remains constant, a person’s internal method of breathing may cause or heal a range of medical conditions.

Shallow Breathing and Disease

Indeed, in the late 1960s and 1970s, a Russian doctor, Dr. Buteyko, discovered that efficient, proper breathing can cure over 200 chronic diseases, including obesity, and most cases of mental illness, such as panic and bipolar disorders.

Dr. Buteyko also developed a string of exercises and methods that people could employ to gradually increase the efficiency of their breathing.

Since many of those exercises require supervision from a practitioner and intense practice, I’m going to present you with some easier methods to change how you naturally breathe, 24/7.

Exercise #1: Century Count

Perform this exercise lying down, with a cushion underneath your knees. Alternatively, you can sit in a straight-back inflexible chair. The main goal is to have your back flat against the surface.

Place your hand over your belly button.

Start consciously breathing into your belly so that your hand rises and falls to a relatively significant degree with each breath.

Continue breathing this way for 100 deep breaths, counting each full breath (inhale and exhale) as one number.

Tip: Most likely, you will get distracted and forget which number you were on multiple times throughout the exercise. Although I recommend trying to concentrate as hard as possible, it’s fine to pick up wherever you think you left off and continue. Missing a few breaths in the exercise is not a big deal compared to missing the exercise entirely and suffering the consequences of poor breathing!

Tip #2: Since the point of this exercise is to help you change how you breathe 24/7, start taking deep breaths like this at various points throughout your day. Reaching 100 isn’t important. Simply remain mindful of how your body breathes all day, every day.

Exercise #2: Deep Breathing Ratios

Perform this exercise either sitting down or standing up.

Have a stopwatch handy so that you can accurately time yourself during this exercise.

The goal of this exercise is to breathe with a ratio of 1 second inhale, 4 seconds hold, and 2 seconds exhale. Ideally, you will be able to inhale for 7 seconds, hold for 28, and exhale for 14. If you can only start with 3-12-6, that’s ok. Start wherever you are and keep building up until 7-28-4 becomes natural. The process is similar to working out and building muscle.

Perform this cycle (inhale-hold-exhale) 10 times.

Tip: You might experience some dizziness or light-headedness during the exercise. This feeling is totally normal, which is why I would suggest starting from a sitting position.

Tip #2: This exercise can also help with your posture. When you inhale, really concentrate on adopting a position that represents perfect posture. Whether you sit or stand, focus on elongating your spine, pushing your shoulders back and keeping your chin slightly up.

(Credit: Anthony Robbins)

Exercise #3: BreathSlim Breathing Device

The structure of this device is simple: it’s a tube that connects your respiratory system to a filter and a cup of water.

You breathe in through your nose for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, and then breathe out through your mouth (and the tube) for 10 seconds.

The trick to this device is that the filter provides resistance to your exhale so that you have to breathe out relatively hard. At the same time, you can’t blow out too hard; otherwise, all of the water will spill out of the cup.

So, the goal is to maintain this cycle of breathing without spilling the water. Sounds simple in theory, but trust me, it’s much more difficult in practice.

For 10-20 minutes every day, you find a chair, sit up straight, and perform this exercise.

Tip: You may get light-headed during this exercise or experience tension in your abdomen. This condition is totally normal and a part of retraining of your body. Just stick with the exercise unless the problem becomes unbearable.

Tip #2: The trick to not blowing out all of the water is to consciously breathe deep into your abdomen and breathe out from that deep place, also. If done right, the water will only slightly bubble, and your breath will flow out consistently over those 10 seconds.

Exercise #4: Low-Intensity Yoga

Ancient yogis developed yoga and its different asana positions/postures because each one successfully raised the level of CO2 in the practitioner's body.

Unfortunately, modern yoga treats the practice as another way to reach peak physical fitness. If you ask most yoga instructors about the role of the breath in their practice, they might answer that it provides the 'yoke' (since yoga means to yoke or unite) between your mind and your body.

Although there exists some truth to this message, the ancient yogis utilized breath to create more than only union. Rather, they sought out those bodily positions that would most effectively allow the breath to transform the body and the mind.

As previously mentioned, when the brain becomes excitable the body and mind are inherently out-of-sync.

Through the calming postures that enhance CO2, practitioners thus invigorate their entire body AND mind. They also achieve the physical/mental synchrony that everyone who does yoga yearns for but hardly achieves even after years of practice.

This harmony between body and mind, granted by the breath and the specific body postures, is what the term 'yoke' actually refers to. Modern practitioners, however, believe its simply timing your exhale with one movement and the inhale with another.

Well Breathing = Well Being

Let me reiterate that the goal of these exercises is to retrain how your body breathes naturally, 24/7.

When you successfully change from shallow breathing to deep breathing, you will experience an amazing number of health benefits:

  • High levels of energy throughout your day
  • Decrease in cravings for coffee, sugars, etc.
  • Weight loss
  • Health improvements and the resolution of multiple chronic problems (such as asthma, sleep apnea, panic disorder, and arthritis)
  • Ability to concentrate and focus for long amounts of time
  • Increased productivity

The best part of this whole process is that once you start breathing correctly, you have an entire system of preventative and counteractive medicine permanently located within your body. And it's all free!

You will gradually find yourself experiencing higher levels of baseline happiness and shorter periods of sadness when they occasionally occur.

Think about it: no one breathing in a relaxed, deep manner is stressed out. Similarly, you can't engage in fight-or-flight responses when breathing from your stomach.

When this type of deep breathing becomes your natural, default way to take in oxygen, your entire body will run more efficiently and your energy levels/happiness will skyrocket!

I’m excited for you to start on your journey to better breathing!

Please post your feedback below and encourage others to start training if your experience some results in your life.

Enjoy being happy!

(Disclaimer: Some of this information is gathered from a series of articles found on normalbreathing.com. The structure, the wording, and the content, however, are original.)

The Importance Of Breathing

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    • stanmurphy profile image

      Stan Murphy 4 years ago from Kansas

      Great hub. I too suffer from anxiety and your quote, "You will gradually find yourself experiencing higher levels of baseline happiness and shorter periods of sadness when they occasionally occur." really hit home for me. We often take our breathing for granted, but we should not. Thanks for the article!

    • profile image

      Brent 4 years ago

      Excellent, eye-opening article Jay. As usual, the content is intriguing and presented in a convincing manner, and I appreciate how you plainly credit your sources--the honesty is refreshing and makes me trust you more. However, you are lucky today because I've finally got a criticism:

      The 4 paragraphs at the end of this article starting with "The best part of this whole process..." and ending with "skyrocket" did not seem to match the majority of your writing style I've seen in the rest of your articles here. The claims made seemed like you were unsure of what to say for a conclusion and were desperate to convince the reader (I'd be desperate given the evidence too!) to do these breathing practices. This comes off as insecure and made me feel a little skeptical--it seemed like you were claiming this to be a pancea, which always raises a red flag in my mind. Trust your readers' intelligence. Insecurity is fine. Just remember to resist letting it dictate your writing because insecurity is irrational and it is likely not in line with your goals.

      To end on a good note, great addition at the very end where you ask your readers to comment with their feedback. My feedback about this article overall is very positive! I've never heard of this topic, yet I've been meditating for almost a year. Now it all makes sense why meditation is so benefical. Thanks Jay =]

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 4 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I know that deep breathing is important, because I use it to counteract anxiety on a regular basis. Taking a moment to pause and breathe deeply also helps me reduce the amount of stress I am feeling. I didn't know, though, that breathing had an effect on chronic illness! That is definitely interesting!