A Whole New Way of Breathing Better

Take a deep breath.

That’s a tall order for some of us. 12 million of us have asthma. 10% have COPD and the rest of us have some sort of breathing dysfunction, big or small, say breathing researchers.  Almost 90 percent of us breathe incorrectly, And this affects how we eat, think, our blood pressure, even how long we might live!

It seems so automatic but breathing correctly means a few crucial things, most of all, breathing through the nose—not through your mouth. This simple adjustment can increase oxygenation by 20 percent says the Harvard Medical School, supplying more oxygen to all our body parts including the digestive system. That simple fix could also help control or reverse your insomnia, hypertension, and asthma and even make you a happier person, say breath therapists.

You might lessen your susceptibility to diabetes and heart disease, lower your stress, sharpen your focus, even fight tooth decay and make yourself more physically attractive. According to science journalist and author James Nestor, “Breathing allows us to hack into our nervous system, control our immune response, and restore our health in general. No matter what we eat, how much we exercise, how resilient our genes are, none of it matters unless we’re breathing correctly,” he cautions.

It’s pulmonary science. Breath has long been a focal point for cultural and religious practices — particularly among the Greeks and Buddhists, Hindus, and some Native Americans.  Over the centuries, controlling the breath (known as pranayama in yoga-speak) was discovered to not only deepen spiritual connections but profoundly impact whole-body health.

Scientists say we humans are the worst inhalers and exhalers in the animal kingdom. Our breath is an extremely powerful tool, says Nestor.   “About 30 pounds of air enters in and out of our lungs every day. And how we take that air in and how we exhale it determines so much of our mental wellbeing, our physical health, even our life span.”  The vast majority of us are breathing sub-optimally because we are breathing through the mouth, not the nose. We are also breathing too fast and not deeply enough.

It is not just about inhale/exhale. It’s about what goes into your mouth as well,  The human mouth has been shrinking over the past 300- 400 years.  Our teeth no longer fit in our mouths, say dental anthropologists.  They grow crooked, we have them yanked out, and it’s so common now that no one really asks why. But we should wonder.  Animals and our ancestors had perfectly straight teeth, but 90% of us these days do not because our mouths are too small which means a smaller airway, which creates chronic breathing problems.

Lastly, when you breathe through the mouth, you expose yourself to everything unpleasant in the environment: from dust, pathogens, and viruses, to air pollutant particles, bacteria. Mouth breathing can lead to a number of severe health problems.  First, it’s an extremely inefficient way to supply oxygen to the brain.  When we breathe through our nose, we push it through a bunch of different structures, and those structures heat the air up. They humidify it, pressurize it and condition it so that by the time it enters our lungs, we get about 25% more oxygen than would be available through our mouths.

So what’s ideal? A respiration rate of about five to six seconds to inhale, five to six seconds to exhale — is spot on. This pattern lowers heart rates and blood pressure and sends more oxygen to the brain. Even conditions like asthma, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and psoriasis have been reduced or reversed by using this very simple technique.

Here are three things to remember and try

  • Slow down— taking fewer but deeper breaths will give you more energy and lower your blood pressure. Count when you breathe, don’t guess. Make it part of your meditation practice.
  • When you close your mouth and breathe through your nose, what you do is pressurize, humidify, and filter so that by the time that air gets to your lungs, it can be absorbed much more readily because it’s sanitized and conditioned.

Of course, if you like gadgets, there are some that may provide extra help:

*The Breather”– a hand-held device that improves oxygen uptake and shallow breathing

* “Prana”– a gadget that sits at your waistline to monitor your breathing patterns and even buzzes you when need to adjust your breathing. Also provides a variety of breathing techniques

* “Oumua” –An AI-powered breath trainer

-Frances Goulart


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