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Breathing Optimally: Part 1

Do we breathe well and do we know how to breathe?

Well, we take around 20,000 breaths a day. Doesn't this mean we intuitively know how to do this well, as we've been doing this all life long?

Not necessarily - studies suggest we often and commonly tend to have dysfunctional breathing, which includes:

- biomechanical issues with breath - how we use our muscles during breathing, and the flow through our lungs;

- biochemical challenges - think optimal gas and nutrient exchange through your blood;

- psychophysiological - nervous system regulation through breath.

Are these all working for you optimally? How can you tell?

Try a breath hold test - after sitting quietly for 5 mins, take a breath in and see how long you can hold it - remaining fully calm and not feeling the activation of breathing muscles. A 25 second hold is good and has a high correlation with more optimal breathing. A few of us won't be able to achieve this, however.

A 2016 study by K Kiesel et al, first published in the Journal of Sports Physical therapy, found that out of 51 subjects only 5 had fully functional breathing. That's pretty low, right? The volunteers were 27 year olds, so quite young. Perhaps not what we expect.

So do we want to re-assess our answer to the question "do we know how to breathe correctly"?

With that... what IS the correct way to breathe?

There are many ways to breathe, so it depends on the purpose and where we are at presently. Generally, however, breathing "calmly, slow and low" is best. Unless, of course, you are running for your life away from an attacker.

In reality, we can often be habitually breathing too hard and too high and this has a number of negative effects. For instance, breathing in more deeply does not actually bring in more oxygen, it actually reduces the amount of oxygen released by haemoglobin as we become less tolerant to carbon dioxide. This is something called the Bohr effect and this was discovered in 1904.

And breathing in more deeply brings us into a more alert, more danger-aware state and with this heightened arousal, our organs are primed for action, not "resting and digesting". This actually feeds into the cycle of anxiety.

Nasal breathing is really important as mouth breathing is correlated with many issues - higher blood pressure, sleep apnea and even dementia to name but a few. And there is also a correlation with jaw malformation and crowded teeth, worsened circulation and cold hands and feet.

In part 2 of this blog post, we will continue to explore these key concepts, and talk about how this relates to your movement patterns, and any pain you might be experiencing.

Join us at for more information and a video accompanying this post.

Breathe well!


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