Components of functional breathing
As a follow up to my previous post about hyperventilation, the way you breathe is very important in regards to getting the valuable nervous system-balancing effects you want. I’ll often have patients come into my office saying that they’ve tried breathing for anxiety, stress or pain, and that it never seems to work for them. More often than not, they’re missing at least one of these major components of functional breathing:
1. Posture - the way you sit when breathing is really important. If you’re slouched, it will affect your diaphragm’s ability to pull air in. You’re looking for an upright, yet relaxed position
2. Through the nose - the nose is our natural filtration and warming system for air; when you breathe in through the nose, it filters particles/allergens, warms and moistens air as it enters your body
3. Diaphragmatic - this is the most challenging for many people (discerning whether they’re actually using the diaphragm as opposed to accessory or compensatory muscles).
4. Shallow - this is specifically about amount and can be confusing conceptually; if you’re at rest, you don’t need to take really deep heaving breaths - even ujjayi breathing in yoga should not involve really heavy breaths
5. Slow - we’re aiming for between 4.5-7.5 breaths per minute; the sweet spot for most people in terms of balancing the nervous system is around 6 breaths per minute
6. Even inhale-to-exhale ratio: the inhale is equal in length and quality to the exhale
7. Silent - now a caveat; when I’m teaching the basics of functional breathing, I emphasize little to no sound. But as my students and patients get better, I switch focus more to yogic breathing which does incorporate some sound.
Changing dysfunctional breathing habits can be a subtle and detailed process. We’re breathing all the time, mostly without thinking about it, so years of unconscious dysfunctional breathing can take some time and awareness to change. I myself am not immune - even with my 15 years of experience in breath work, I still have blind spots that lead me to seek guidance from a skilled teacher. That being said, I think that the work is so worth the results. If you’d like to work on deepening your breathing practice or assessing how functionally you breathe, that’s something I can help you with.