Let me ask you a few questions:
- Do you breathe through your mouth sometimes while going through your daily routine?
- Do you breathe through your mouth while sleeping? Waking up with a dry mouth is a sign.
- Do you snore?
- Observe your breathing right now – are you breathing from the chest or abdomen?
- Do you sigh regularly?
- Do you hear yourself breathing during rest?
Answering yes to even one of these questions means that you are over-breathing. These are typical symptoms of what happens when the amount of air we breathe is more than we need. Just as over-eating is bad for the body, so is over-breathing.
I realized, a few months ago, that I also over-breathe. Breathing was something which never came to my mind whenever I thought of a fit life for myself. Then one day I came across an article about breathing that caught my eye. I was finding myself waking up at night thirsty. I was snoring. And there were many days when I woke up tired and groggy despite sleeping for eight hours. This led to lot of reading and listening to podcasts on the correct way of breathing. And it just changed my whole perspective towards a healthy and fit me.
We can survive without food for weeks and without water for days but not even a few minutes without air. We give so much attention to food for a healthy body but seldom pay any attention to how we breathe.
A deep breath does not mean taking in heavy breaths. Deep means ‘extending far from the top’. A deep breath therefore means to breathe down into the full depths of lungs. Use the diaphragm to breathe. With each inhalation and exhalation, the abdomen gently expands and contracts. There should not be an effort during breathing. It should be silent.
I, like most people, always thought or was advised that taking in large amounts of air into the lungs during rest would increase the oxygen content in the blood. Based on this I would take deep breaths during rest and training, especially after a run when the body was over taxed. Now I realise that I have been doing the complete opposite of what should be done. This habit was, in fact, diminishing my performance and recovery. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the urge to take deeper breaths when we hit the wall during exercise does not provide more oxygen to muscles but reduces oxygenation.
Because of the Covid pandemic, many homes have an oximeter and we know that we are fine if we have an oxygen saturation of 95-99 percent. The idea of taking bigger breaths, to inhale more oxygen, is like providing more food for energy to an individual who is already eating enough for their caloric needs. Our goal should be to let this oxygen reach our muscles and brain efficiently for a healthy, energetic life. And carbon dioxide is the doorway which lets oxygen reach your muscles. When we breathe in excess of what is required, too much carbon dioxide is exhaled from the lungs and thus is removed from the blood. If your blood saturation is normal and you constantly feel tired or fatigued, you may be breathing wrong. Not enough oxygen is being released from your blood to your tissues and muscles. This happens because too much carbon dioxide has been expelled from the body. You will feel lethargic and exhausted.
In 1904, Danish physiologist Christian Bohr discovered the Bohr Effect which in simple terms is haemoglobin releases oxygen when in the presence of carbon dioxide. Over breathing limits the release of oxygen from the blood and in turn effects how well our muscles are able to work.
How fit are you? Take the BOLT Test.
Take a small gentle breath through your nose and release a silent breath through your nose.
- Hold your nose after you breathe out with your fingers to prevent air from entering your lungs.
- Count the number of seconds until you feel the first definite need to breathe
- You may feel a jerk in your abdomen or around your neck. Release your nose and breathe through it.
- Your inhalation should be calm at the end of breath. If you are breathing heavier than normal means you have over-held your breath.
Note your time. The ideal BOLT score for a healthy individual should be 40 seconds. Most people manage 20 seconds or less. I managed 23 when I tried it the first time. Now it has improved to 30 seconds.
What you can do to improve your BOLT score
- Breathe through your nose. Always. The nose is for breathing and the mouth is for eating. Nasal breathing results in 10-20 percent more oxygen uptake. It removes a significant amount of germs and bacteria from the air you breathe in. Nasal breathing during exercise gives a more aerobic training effect, improving your Vo2 max. And most importantly nasal breathing is imperative for harnessing the benefits of nitric oxide. Mouth breathing bypasses this special gas which helps in keeping us away from various diseases including cancer and promotes a longer life. Observe your breathing throughout the day. Good breathing during rest should not be seen or heard. Avoid taking big breaths during talking or yawning. Stop losses of carbon dioxide.
- Improve your tolerance of carbon dioxide. Do breathing exercises. These are some of the Breathing Exercises I do.
Sit or lie down in a relaxed manner. Allow your whole body to relax. Place one hand on your chest and one just above your naval. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move. Breathe in with your nose and breathe out from pursed lips. Do 10 repetitions before starting the first exercise
1)Breathe in through your nose for count of 4 seconds
2) Hold your breathe for 7 seconds
3) Breathe out through pursed lips in 8 seconds. Try to get all the air out of your lungs by the time you count 8.
4) Repeat 10 rounds
1) Put your left hand on your belly and your right hand on your chest.
2) Inhale first into your lower lungs and your left hand will rise as your belly inflates, and then continue inhaling into your upper chest. . As you do so, your right hand will rise and your left hand will fall a little as your belly falls.
3) As you exhale slowly through your mouth, as first your left hand and then your right hand fall. As you exhale, feel the tension leaving your body as you become more and more relaxed.
4) The movement of your belly and chest rises and falls like the motion of rolling waves.
5) Do this 5 times
1) Assume the same position. One hand over naval and one over chest.
2) Breathe in and out of the nose.
3) As you breathe exert gentle pressure with your hands on your abdomen and chest creating resistance to your breathing
4) With each breath take in less air and breathe out in a completely relaxed breath.
5) After a few breaths you will feel hunger for air.
6) Pay attention to your breaths. Slow down your breathing and calm your breath. You are deliberately taking in less air.
7) Make your breath so soft that you start to feel breathless. The whole effort is to create a hunger for air.
8) At this time take in a deep breath and start repeating.
9) Do it for 3- 5 minutes. Practise 2 sets of 3-5 mins
Create an air shortage by holding your breath during walking/jogging/cycling.
- Walk at a comfortable pace.
- Breathe regularly through your nose using your diaphragm
- After a minute or so of walking , exhale gently through your nose and pinch your nose with your fingers to hold the breath. Walk until you feel a moderate need to breathe. When you feel this hunger for air, let go of your nose and resume breathing through the nose
- Do this breath hold for ten minutes doing one breath hold every minute or so.
All these exercises may increase dizziness or secrete more saliva in the mouth. You may also feel anxious. All these changes are normal. You should do these breathing exercises under supervision of experts if you are not comfortable.
Nasal Only breathing during exercise
I try to experiment, if I learn something new, on my workout. Nasal only breathing is the new thing that’s going on now, and with certain authority, I can share that it has improved my cardio capacity tremendously. So my experiment is spinning for half an hour three to four times a week keeping my average heart rate between 125-130 bps. I have been doing this for the last six weeks. And I have seen tremendous improvements.
- The first day I started, my level on the spinning machine was at 19, beyond which my heart rate would jump and nasal breathing was not possible. Today it is level 30 keeping the heart rate the same.
- I experience less dehydration
- I have a faster recovery post workout
- I have better endurance
- I experience less sweating
If you’re as intrigued as I am about nasal-only breathing, I urge you to start by practicing breathing this way: Start with low intensity cardio. Try breathing through the nose exclusively and only open the mouth when you feel a strong urge to do so.
Little by little, your tolerance will improve and it will become more comfortable to breathe this way. Expect an initial drop in performance. When you start getting used to it, you’ll take your cardio health and performance to the next level! Nasal only breathing will not only help you improve your cardio performance, but your overall health and longevity.
Most of us humans take 15-20 breaths a minute. Slow it down. Try to consciously bring it down to 10 breaths a minute. A tortoise takes 3-4 breaths a minute and they live up to 400 years. Slow down your breathing. Move to nasal-only breathing 24X7.
Using the right breathing techniques you can:
- Increase your exercise intensity while expending less effort and breathing less heavily
- Achieve your perfect weight by suppressing your appetite naturally through correct breathing
- Simulate high-altitude training to improve aerobic and anaerobic capacity
- Improve your energy levels, concentration and mental focus
- Become fitter and stronger
To learn more about breathing you may like to read:
- The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick Mckeown.
- Breathe by James Nester
- Art of Breath by Brian Mckenzie