So many people take breathing for granted.  They just accept it as something our bodies do that we don’t need to think about.  But what if controlling your breathing allowed you to heal your body and optimize your performance?  This post takes a deep dive into how our breathing affects our bodies wellness and how to determine if you are breathing correctly.

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How is our breathing controlled?

The autonomic nervous system controls the majority of our internal body processes.  This includes blood pressure, how fast you breathe, how fast your heartbeats, and your digestion and metabolism.  The autonomic nervous system is separated into the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system.  Some diseases of the autonomic nervous system include peripheral nerve disorders, Parkinson’s disease, even aging, in general, is a process of the autonomic nervous system.  Spinal cord injuries and certain viruses can also cause damage to your nervous system, therefore affecting some of the regulation of your internal processes.

Controlling your autonomic nervous system = controlling your breathing

Let’s use the example of someone getting into an ice bath.  It is shocking to your autonomic nervous system and sends your body into life or death mode.  Your heart rate and blood pressure go up.  Your breathing rate increases.  And your blood flow is shunted to the organs that need it to prepare for fight or flight.

Now, if you’re reading this and thinking, “Oh, I have high blood pressure.”  Or, “I breathe faster than what is normal most of the time.”  That means that your body is constantly functioning in a state of stress.  This can also lead to issues like constipation or gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD).  Even things like erectile dysfunction and sexual disinterest in women can be related to autonomic dysfunction.

You can throw yourself into a life or death situation when training really hard, but the majority of people don’t even realize they are putting their bodies in these situations just sitting at their desk at work.  This is why controlled breathing from your diaphragm and mindfulness has become so important.  Controlled breathing from the diaphragm helps to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and this calms your body.  The next piece of this is becoming more self-aware.  Are you sitting up straight?  Are you breathing with your diaphragm?  Do you feel relaxed or stressed?  Are you clenching your jaw?  These are all ways you can gauge if you’re throwing your body into life or death mode.

Next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, and feel your breathing coming from your chest and your jaw clenching, change your mindfulness and change your breathing.  Take deep breaths coming from your diaphragm and find your calm.  Now you can handle the situation with a clear mind and refrain from acting emotionally.

Are you controlling your breathing correctly?

I want to review different ways you can identify if you are breathing incorrectly.  The first thing I want to discuss is over-breathing.  The book, The Oxygen Advantage, has a great assessment to identify if you are over-breathing.  Over-breathing is when you are taking in 2 to 3 times for oxygen than you actually need.  This is an issue because the increase in oxygen intake actually changes your bodies pH and can cause a whole host of other issues.

Are you over-breathing?

There are some questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are regularly over-breathing.  Do you find yourself breathing through your mouth throughout the day?  Are you a mouth breather when you sleep?  This may be difficult to know, but one way to determine if you’re breathing through your mouth while you sleep is if you wake up with a dry mouth.  Can you visibly notice your breathing while you’re at rest?  Do you regularly sigh or yawn throughout the day?  If you’ve answered yes to a lot of these questions, you are most likely an over-breather.

In The Oxygen Advantage, the author describes there being an optimal amount of air we should be taking in.  Just like there is an optimal amount of water to stay hydrated and an optimal amount of calories we should consume.  So it is important we recognize how much air we’re taking in and take steps to rectify it.

Other assessments for incorrect breathing

Some other assessments that can indicate you’re breathing improperly include the hand on chest and hand on belly assessment.  This simply means you place one hand on your stomach and one on your chest and see if when you inhale does your chest, stomach or both rise.  For proper resting breathing, your stomach should be filling with air, not your chest.  This is the foundational diaphragm breathing.  Check out the Mobility Athletes YouTube channel for demonstrations on diaphragm breathing.

I hope this information has allowed you to learn more about controlling your breathing and the proper form for breathing in high vs. low-stress situations.