Every breath you take could be killing you slowly –
20 000 times each day!
  

 I guess the title is a giveaway but take a little guess how many breaths most humans take each day?

When I run my Mind Performance workshops, I ask people this question.  Most throw out a vague guess of around three to five thousand breaths. 

When I tell them that for a modern, slightly stressed individual, it’s more like up to 20 000 breaths per day there are audible gasps throughout the room. 

That’s a lot of breaths.  Even more, that’s a whole lot of muscular contractions, heart beats, oxygen and carbon dioxide moving around each day. 

And then one penny drops.  I tell them that to be healthy, the optimal number of breaths you want to be breathing each day is only about 8000. 

But then the real penny comes crashing to the floor.  I tell them that the remaining 10 000 breaths you are unnecessarily taking, could quite possibly be killing you slowly, a little more each day.

I thought it was good to breathe?

Well, yes, of course.  Three minutes without it and you’re already booking your plaque on the crematory wall.  The breath is undoubtedly your source of life.  But what most people fail to realise is that more isn’t better.

Everything in excess can kill.  Drink enough water and you’ll essentially drown your kidneys.  Breathe too many breaths and you’re placing massive strain on bodily systems such as your brain, heart and stomach, not to mention creating unwanted muscular tension in the neck, shoulders, stomach, jaw and eyes.

A quick inventory

Take a moment, stop reading and just notice how your body is breathing right now before you shift your posture or try to breathe correctly

My bet is that your posture is a little rounded, shoulders dropping forward, belly is either sticking out and a little compressed by the chest or it’s hard and stiff.  Your breath is shallow into the upper chest and quite possibly coming in and out through the mouth. 

How did I go?

While I’m in the process of making predictions, here’s a few more. 

·         You often struggle with chronically tight neck and shoulder muscles. 

·         You may occasionally experience unpleasant tension headaches.

·   You catch yourself sighing, taking random deep breaths or yawning a lot throughout the day.

If you ticked even a few of these boxes, just know that there’s every chance you are in that 20 000 breaths per day league.   Your breathing rate may very well be doing you more harm than good.  

The great news is that you’ve now got 10 000 opportunities each day to start heading in a much healthier direction.  Every breath you re-train, slow down and allow to flow more optimally will very quickly lead you toward:

·         Significantly enhanced energy.

·         Lower stress levels

·         Improved sleep

·         Lower blood pressure

·         Enhanced digestion

·         Improved immune function

·         Heightened sex drive

·         Greater endurance in sport – higher VO2 Max

 The science
Your body needs Oxygen (O2) to create ATP to move your muscles and nourish your cells. Not enough and you won’t have any power.  However, there’s nearly always enough O2 in your blood.  The problem is that you can’t always get it out of your blood and into the cells. 

If you were to put a Pulse Oximeter on your finger to test your O2 saturation in the blood it will generally hover around the 95-99% mark. 

It’s not that you need to breathe more to increase oxygen. The real issue lies with Carbon Dioxide (CO2).   

Most people think very digitally about these two chemicals. 

Oxygen = good

Carbon Dioxide = bad

Yes, CO2 is a by-product of respiration but it’s also an essential part of the process.   So, if I say CO2 is the problem, it’s not that you need to get rid of it.  In truth, you don’t have enough of it.  In order for Oxygen to get from the blood into your cells where it’s needed, you require CO2 to help it release from Haemoglobin.  When it can’t, this condition is called hypocapnia.

Now, if your eyes just glazed over from the elementary school science lesson just know this one crucial fact:

Excessive breathing doesn’t necessarily give you more O2 because your blood is already saturated.  However, what it does do is push too much CO2 out of the body.  This means you won’t have access to all this life giving Oxygen floating around in your blood.

Less Oxygen reaching your cells means you’ll need to listen to more repeats of that Fugees classic, Killing me softly.

There’s a bunch more science but that’s the basic 101.

The back of the DVD summary basically says -  slower, softer breathing means more CO2 in your blood because you’re not exhaling it all out.  This means more ability to draw O2 out of the blood into your cells, which means happier brains, healthier hearts and more efficient metabolism. 

Test yourself now…

Patrick McKeown, author of Oxygen Advantage, has a very simple test you can do to assess where your current CO2 tolerance is at. 

He calls it the BOLT score.  It can form a good guide as to how you’re developing with your breath re-training. 

Grab a stop watch or look at the clock. 

Do this with an easy breath, not an exaggerated deep breath.

Begin by taking in a soft natural breath and then just let the breath fall out without trying to expel all the possible air.  Then lightly pinch your nose closed.  Leave the breath out and notice how your body responds.  You aren’t trying to hold the breath out as long as humanly possible like you might when swimming underwater.  Instead, just notice when that first impulse to want to breathe happens.  You might notice some muscle contractions in your belly, jaw and neck. 

Take a breath in when you need to and note how long this took. 

If you’ve done this accurately, without straining it’s likely your score will be somewhere between 5 –20 seconds. 

What does it all mean?

The lower your BOLT score the less CO2 you can tolerate and therefore the more you will be breathing.  The more you are breathing, the less healthy and oxygenated your cells and the more at risk of illness, inflammation and stress your body will be. 

The aim is to work to slow down your breathing rate and depth over time so as to gradually increase this BOLT score.   You do this by monitoring your breath both when at rest and during exercise.  Take fewer breaths with a decreased volume regularly and also begin to add in some basic breath holds as you become comfortable with this feeling of feeling slightly breath hungry.

Why has this happened?

There are a few causes to the chronic problems with breathing evident today.

The first obvious answer is that there’s just no education around breathing.  Unless you get along to a yoga class (where even there you often get bad advice) you’ve probably never given it much thought.  Learning the mechanics of good breathing is an important start.

Another reason is that after around age seven you start developing more of an emotional brain.  Because breathing is controlled by the instinctive centres in the brain stem, these become easily influenced by emotions.  Just consider how much the breath varies between feeling angry, happy or sad. 

A third reason is that in order to build rapport with your parents, you unconsciously learn to breathe just like them.  Watch kids sitting with their parents and it’s likely they breathe identically to them.  This is also true for sneezing, yawning and walking patterns. 

Just another reason to thank your parents!

Poor diet is another reason.  Over breathing actually makes the blood slightly alkaline, which many new agers will tell you is optimal.  However, what this means is that the body will then crave acidic foods to balance it out.  You will then crave sugars, coffee, meats and bad fats to create balance.  Ever felt super tired at 2pm and reached for something sweet or another coffee?  If you were to do a few minutes of breathwork instead you might find that craving almost instantly vanishes. 

Finally, and possibly most importantly is posture.  It’s virtually impossible to breathe slowly, down into the belly when you’re looking at your phone, watching Netflix, driving, slouching on the sofa or tapping on your computer. 

Three things you can do today to start reclaiming massive energy through optimal breathing.

1.      Sit up straight! 

Posture trumps everything.  You can’t do steps 2-3 without this one first.  So, every time you notice your posture today, make a quick shift toward a tall spine, shoulders back, chest a little lifted and belly soft. 

2.      Breathe through the nose. 

I had a client in my clinic recently who had incredible workplace stress, sleep problems and anxiety.  He was a mouth, upper chest and rapid breather.  Needless to say, this was our whole first session.  He told me he that all his life he honestly believed that he was supposed to breathe through his mouth.  Believe it or not he had actually started taping up his nose at night! 

Like I said, lack of education…

When you breathe through the nose not only do you filter the air, you also create Nitrous Oxide which has been shown to have numerous benefits such as:

·         Regulating blood vessels

·         Immune defence

·         Supporting neurotransmitters

·         Preventing high Blood Pressure

·         Lowering Cholesterol

·         Opening arteries and preventing clogging

·         Aiding with Erectile Dysfunction in men and enhancing libido in women

Even if your nose is blocked always do your best to breathe through the nostrils.  There are some great tips in the online videos as well as the Reclaim your energy through breathing course for helping with this.

3.    Always breathe diaphragmatically

To practice - lie on your back, with one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach.  Breathe slowly and gently.  Say to yourself, ‘I will only breathe into my diaphragm.  I will keep my chest relaxed and unmoving.’  Don’t push your stomach forward, just imagine the diaphragm muscle under the ribs moving down as you inhale and coming back up as you exhale.  The belly will move all on its own. 

Practice for a few minutes before you fall to sleep at night and first thing when you wake up.

When you’re sitting and standing this can take more practice.  Just make a concerted effort that the first thing to move when you breathe is your diaphragm moving down and belly soft.  The upper chest should never really move but the lower ribs may float a little with each breath. 

Remember - Belly out as you inhale…  Belly in as you exhale…

4.       Hunger for the breath

This is super important and may make all the difference.  Make a commitment to slow down and breathe less than normal.  Whenever you remember, slow your breathing down to the point that you feel a slight hunger for air.  This doesn’t mean deepen the breath.   It’s all done with soft belly breathing.  There’s no need to hold the breath at this point, just breath less than you want. 

This may seem strange and unpleasant at first as through you’re really running out of air and need to take in a big gulp.  Notice this and resist as much as you can.  If you get that breath urgency see if you can override it and make yourself take another soft belly breath.  Creating a subtle breath hunger will gradually start increasing CO2 levels which means your nose will open, lungs will expand and Oxygen will start getting where it’s needed.  Most importantly, it will gradually send a message that it’s time to start cutting down on a few of those extra daily breaths thereby leaving you energy for other things!

If you catch yourself sighing or yawning a lot during the day, quickly swallow and stifle it.  Then spend a minute or two with this softer hungry breathing. 

Time to wake up!

Imagine if with just a little focus on your part you could save your body the added energy of even just a few thousand breaths each day.  You literally won’t know the difference to your vitality levels and overall state of mind. 

With increased practice and adding on some of the next level techniques that we teach in the online Reclaim your energy and inner power through breathing workshop you literally won’t know yourself in the next few months.  Gradually, you’ll notice your breathing dropping from around 20 to as low as 6 breaths per minute, which is a massive difference.  You’ll be more awake than ever before.  Your productivity will be through the roof, you’ll need less sleep and you’ll just be an all round happier, healthier YOU.

Next Steps

Get Started Meditating Today – Free Course

Reclaim your energy and inner power through breathing – online course

Calm Living 5 Week Meditation Course

 

Where to now?

Why deep breathing is the worst advice for Anxiety sufferers