Almost everyone has had a well-meaning friend encourage them to “take a breath” at some point. Practitioners of yoga, massage and other forms of therapies often focus on their client’s breath. So, what’s the big deal about breath? A lot – actually!
We all know that when we breathe, we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. However many of us don’t realize that the rate of our breathing patterns can dramatically affect our bodies! Here are some common symptoms of overbreathing (i.e. “breathing too fast.”):
- Asthma symptoms (bronchial constriction, airway resistance)
- Chest tightness, pressure and pain, blurred vision
- Muscle Tension
- Stomach concerns (pain, constipation, diarrhea)
These are only a handful of symptoms that can be caused by overbreathing! In a gross oversimplification of respiration (forgive me physiologists!), when we breath too quickly, we exhale too much carbon dioxide. This changes the pH level in our blood – causing oxygen to be overbound to hemoglobin. This means that while blood is pumping to our organs and tissues, the oxygen is not being released!
Our body becomes oxygen starved! This is why “mindful breathing” is important. At least once a day, just notice your breath and allow it to slow to a comfortable rhythm. Avoid very deep breaths (this causes another form of physiological distress), but allow full and comfortable breaths. Many individuals find they only have the patience for this exercise for several minutes at a time. That is ok – we all have to start somewhere! In general, it is recommended to practice mindful breathwork for at least twenty minutes a day. Again- something is better than nothing, so don’t let that discourage you!
Many indivduals work up to a time period that works for them – and you can determine this for yourself. If this is an area that is intriguing to you, I encourage you to find a biofeedback practitioner, who is appropriately trained in breathing retraining, to assist you. It may be surprising to you which of your symptoms may be improved by this simple shift!
Cassandra Cannon, Ph.D.
AToN Center 888-535-1516