Episode 69: Breathing – are we doing it wrong?

Breathing. It’s the most fundamental part of life. And unlike so many aspects of our health like our diet, exercise, and sleep, it’s something we don’t really have to think about. Or do we? In this week’s episode, Clay and Sarah discuss the health benefits of deep relaxed breathing, the repercussions of poor breathing, and why we often get something as simple as breathing so wrong.


In this episode:

* Sarah’s yoga crusade to rehabilitate people’s breathing patterns

* what is ‘good’ or ‘natural’ breathing?

* if breathing is an automatic function, how can we ‘breathe wrong’?

* Repercussions of shallow, upper-chest breathing

* Links between breathing and our nervous system (and stress response)

* What free divers can teach us about the mechanics of breathing

* Sarah and Clay hold their breath and count how many breaths they take per minute

* Breath as an entry point into spiritual practices – the Why and the How


“Throughout time the process of breathing was always considered inseparable from our health, consciousness, and spirit,a nod it is only recently that we have reduced breathing to a mere respiratory exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen,” writes Donna Farhi in The Breathing Book.

We say things like — Take a deep breath. I need a breath of fresh air. I’m so busy I can’t breathe. In fact, we reference our very lives by our first and last breaths.

And yet breathing is the most often overlooked aspect of our health. Because the way we breath is so intimately connected to our nervous system, it is also linked to our stress response. And because they are inseparable, poor breathing (like stress) is linked to all kinds of health conditions from high blood pressure to poor immunity, to slow metabolism, hormonal imbalance and even heart disease.

The good news is — changing our breathing is the easiest way to relieve stress and manage our adrenal response to daily challenges.  So good breathing (meaning deep, lower abdominal breathing at a rate of about 10-12 breaths per minute) is linked to improved health in all these areas.

So if breathing is an automatic function, how does our body get it so wrong? The interesting thing about breathing is that it is one of th only unconscious processes in the body that can be controlled voluntarily. So while we sleep, and while we’re not thinking about it, our body continues to breath on autopilot. Yet if we think about it, we can actively change the way we breathe at any moment.  Unfortunately, when stress in the body or mind impact breathing, our automatic nervous system resets itself to the ‘new normal’. Meaning that our breathing can become disordered and restricted even when it is on autopilot.

In fact most of us breathe in a way that encourages the sympathetic nervous system to continue its stress response. Most of us have moved at least partially if not wholly away from what we might consider Free Natural Breathing.

A free natural breath should have these characteristics:

* gentle movement of the whole body

* originate from the diaphragm

* arise naturally (rather than be pulled in mechanically)

* feel multi-directional (downward and outward feelings of expansion)

* calm and regular

* exhale is slightly longer than inhale with a natural pause before the next breath

* free effortless


Clay and Sarah both measured the number of breaths they take per minute sitting in their chairs at the Havana Cafe. If you count your own breaths per minute, the average is 8-12 (up to 15) when awake and working. This number will rise when you’re exercising or stressed. And of course, it will be significantly lower when you sleep. The rate of our breathing is actually as important as how deeply we breathe, and is a massive indicator of how habitually stressed you are.

We also had a great chat about deep divers, how they hold their breath, and the role carbon dioxide plays in our breathing (which you might not know!)…and we tried to hold our breath for 73 seconds.  Clay just made it… Sarah not quite.  How did you do? What is interesting is to watch your response as the seconds tick away… And then consider that deep free divers can hold their breath for anywhere from 3-10 minutes!!! Wow!

Would love to hear how you did on these breathing tests?  Leave us your numbers on the facebook post here.