How are you breathing right now? Are you breathing through your mouth or nose? Maybe it’s not something you’ve given much thought to, but how you breathe has a big impact on your health and wellbeing. This has been known for thousands of years; energy giving, mood enhancing, regenerating breathing techniques have been practiced and passed down through the generations since ancient times in China and India. Qigong, for example, originated around 2000BC, combining mindful movements, breathing and meditation. It grew out of a practice called Tu Na, which simply translates as ‘breathe out, breathe in’. In the 6th century BCE the Buddha sat down and meditated, employing these breathing techniques when he achieved enlightenment. These same exercises are still practised now and form the basis of many ‘new’ enterprises focusing on self healing.
More recently in the West, our need for scientific evidence instead of experiential knowing has lead to lots of research into the healing effects of conscious breathing. These studies look into things like the evolutionary changes in the shape of the human head and how that has affected the way we breathe, how breathing through the mouth increases chances of snoring, sleep apnea, general poor health and mood, and the multiple benefits of the ancient Hindu, Taoist and Buddhist techniques. Something I find interesting is that the larger our brains grew, the smaller our airways became. If you’re interested in looking at these studies, I’ve included some sources at the bottom of this page.
In my earliest classes with my Buddhist Zen healing, Taoism and Traditional Chinese Medicine teacher (it’s a bit of a long description, but I think it’s important to try to cover all of the different overlapping disciplines I’ve studies over the past 20 years), much of the focus was on refining breathing and breathing deeply so that my abdomen expands. This involved using conscious, or mindful, techniques to hone in on where my breath was going in my body and how rough or noisy it was. I experienced an amazing, pretty much instant, improvement in my mood, reflexes, and general emotional and physical health. Just as these practices have been passed down from tutor to student for thousands of years, I’ve been teaching the techniques within my qigong and meditation classes for the past 19 years to a wide variety of people who want to improve their quality of life, anxieties, focus, energy levels, digestion and overall wellbeing.
On a personal note, my Mum died from pleural mesothelioma almost two years ago. Her lungs were slowly suffocated over the four and a half years from when she was diagnosed with this aggressive cancer. She also had asthma, and I grew up watching her struggling to breathe. So I guess it’s always been easy to me to understand how us humans can strengthen our ability to breathe and harness this ability to improve our overall wellbeing.
It’s amazing to think that something as simple as adjusting how we breathe can dramatically transform the quality of our sleep, organ health, metabolism, emotional health and our bodies’ ability to self-heal. But when you look into it, it’s so obvious! How many times have you been advised to take a deep breath when you’re stressed about something? We know that when people meditate, a practice which increases clarity of thought, relaxation and general wellbeing, breathing slowly and deeply is a major component of achieving these benefits. Deep conscious breathing brings our awareness to the present moment, which helps us experience greater joy, let go of angry reactions and connect with our inner nature and the outer universe.
Some benefits of deep breathing:
Regulate the nervous system – increasing relaxation responses
Enhance vitality – increasing alpha and theta brain waves which are related to greater vitality
Improved emotional wellbeing – promoting positive behaviours and emotions, and facilitating emotional regulation
Improved metabolic processes – increased antioxidant response, promoting good health and longevity
Enhanced respiratory performance – improved breathing efficiency
Where to start? Look away from the screen, sit up straight, notice whether your abdominal muscles are tense. All your muscles to relax a little each time you breathe out. If you’re breathing through your mouth, close it and notice how the air feels as it comes in and escapes through your nose.
If you’re interested in learning more and making deep, mindful breathing part of your every day practice, I can offer you quite a few different options to help.
I work one-to-one online with people who would like personalised support and classes specific to their needs – a combination of qigong, meditation and acupressure massage depending on individual needs. A 10 week course is £180.
My four week online Clear the Clutter Challenge involves daily lessons in mindset, mindful tasks including focus on breathing, and some meditations and exercises. This is £33.99 and the next one starts on 19th April.
I also have a membership group where you can access lots of pre-recorded classes in a private Facebook group whenever you want them, plus new lessons every week, a private messenger group and one-to-one Zoom catch ups every month. It’s £24 per month by standing order.
Finally, I offer a ‘pay what you can’ online community, giving you access to lessons on YouTube via private links, and support through email and group Zoom calls.
Contact me to set up a free initial Zoom chat.
Primordial Breath: An Ancient Chinese Way of Prolonging Life through Breath Control, vol. 1, Seven Treatises from the Taoist Canon, the Tao Tsang, on the Esoteric Practice of Embryonic Breathing, trans. Jane Huang and Michael Wurmbrand, 1st ed. (Original Books, 1987).
Valdenice Aparecida de Menezes et al., “Prevalence and Factors Related to Mouth Breathing in School Children at the Santo Amaro Project—Recife, 2005,” Brazilian Journal of Otorhinolaryngology 72, no. 3 (May–June 2006)
Michael Friedman, ed., Sleep Apnea and Snoring: Surgical and NonSurgical Therapy, 1st ed. (Philadelphia: Saunders/Elsevier, 2009)
David W. Hsu and Jeffrey D. Suh, “Anatomy and Physiology of Nasal Obstruction,” Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America 51, no. 5 (Oct. 2018)
Daniel E. Lieberman, The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease (New York: Pantheon, 2013)
Asif A. Ghazanfar and Drew Rendall, “Evolution of Human Vocal Production,” Current Biology 18, no. 11 (2008); Kathleen Masterson, “From Grunting to Gabbing: Why Humans Can Talk,” NPR, Aug. 11, 2010, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129083762
Thomas M. Heffron, “Insomnia Awareness Day Facts and Stats,” Sleep Education, Mar. 10, 2014, http://sleepeducation.org/news/2014/03/10/insomnia-awareness-day-facts-and-stats
The Primordial Breath: An Ancient Chinese Way of Prolonging Life through Breath Control, vol. 2, trans. Jane Huang and Michael Wurmbrand (Original Books, 1990), 31.
Steven Y. Park, MD, Sleep, Interrupted: A Physician Reveals the #1 Reason Why So Many of Us Are Sick and Tired (New York: Jodev Press, 2008), 26.
Nancie George, “10 Incredible Facts about Your Sense of Smell,” EveryDay Health, https://www.everydayhealth.com/news/incredible-facts-about-your-sense-smell/
A. B. Ozturk et al., “Does Nasal Hair (Vibrissae) Density Affect the Risk of Developing Asthma in Patients with Seasonal Rhinitis?,” International Archives of Allergy and Immunology 156, no. 1 (Mar. 2011): 75–80.
Kalaivani, M. J. Kumari, and G. K. Pal, “Effect of Alternate Nostril Breathing Exercise on Blood Pressure, Heart Rate, and Rate Pressure Product among Patients with Hypertension in JIPMER, Puducherry,” Journal of Education and Health Promotion 8, no. 145 (July 2019).
Lois Baker, “Lung Function May Predict Long Life or Early Death,” University at Buffalo News Center, Sept. 12, 2000, http:/www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2000/09/4857.html
Marc A. Russo et al., “The Physiological Effects of Slow Breathing in the Healthy Human,” Breathe 13, no. 4 (Dec. 2017): 298–309.
Prem V. et al (2013) Comparison of the Effects of Buteyko and Pranayama Breathing Techniques on Quality of Life in Patients with Asthma- A Randomised Controlled Trial. Vol. 27, No.2, pp.133-141, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0269215512450521
“Rhythm of Breathing Affects Memory and Fear,” Neuroscience News, Dec. 7, 2016, https://neurosciencenews.com/memory-fear-breathing-5699/
Albert Szent-Györgyi, “The Living State and Cancer,” in G. E. W. Wolstenholme et al., eds., Submolecular Biology and Cancer (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2008), 17.
Danielle Simmons, “Epigenetic Influences and Disease,” Nature Education, https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/epigenetic-influences-and-disease-895/
Adelola OA. et al. 2013, Role of Buteyko Breathing Technique in asthmatics with nasal symptoms, Clinical Otolaryngology April; 38(2):190-191; http://buteykoclinic.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Buteyko-Hayfever.pdf
Afle GM and Grover SK To study the effectiveness of Buteyko Breathing Technique versus diaphragmatic breathing in asthmatics I J Physiother, Vol 1 (3) 116-119, August 2014
Arden-Close E et al. Patients’ experiences of breathing re-training for asthma: a qualitative process analysis of participants in the intervention arms of the BREATHE trial, Primary Care Respiratory Medicine, 27, Article number: 56 (2017); https://www.nature.com/articles/s41533-017-0055-5
James Nestor, “Breath, The New Science of a Lost Art,” 2020