You can go for months without food, a week without sleep, days without water, minutes without oxygen.
So it stands to reason, the most critical thing we can do to optimise our health is to ensure we are breathing properly. You’re going to take a lot of breaths in your life…you need to do it right.
There’s a right way to breathe?? I hear you ask…Absolutely.
Before we get into that however, let’s do a quick overview.
Breathing is the only reflex in our body which is both conscious and subconscious. In that it will happen automatically but we can also intervene and take direct control of the process.
As a result it is hardwired to our nervous system. So the way you breathe can take you from a state of fight or flight to feed and breed (or vice versa of course!). I often use this when I’m kitesurfing or snowboarding and about to try something new, to calm my nervous system and allow easier access to the Flow State.
Don’t Believe Me?
You can strap yourself to a HRV monitor, change your breathing and watch your HRV change.
Added to this we are now discovering that when you lose weight most of the fat you’re losing is actually being expelled through the air you’re breathing out…pretty cool right?
So How Should You Breath?
In his book Breath, James Nestor does a simple experiment where he blocks his nose for 2 weeks and forces himself to breath through his mouth.
Before he does this he measures a whole bunch of crucial markers for health.
After the 2 weeks every single marker has fallen, some very significantly. What’s more he feels awful, is struggling to sleep and has zero energy.
Then he swaps over and only breathes through his nose for 2 weeks.
All his vital signs return to normal and in many cases get better than they were before the experiment started, he has tonnes of energy, sleeps like a prince and feels great.
So How Do We Breathe Correctly?
Simple, breathe in and out through the nose for 5-6 seconds each in/exhale…the shallower the better.
A simple exercise to practice and something I use a lot when practicing extreme sports and about to do something silly to calm myself down and get myself in the zone, (but can as easily be used at work to prepare yourself for an important presentation or just a confrontation with the boss) is:
Breathe in for a count of 5-6 seconds (making sure it’s a shallow breath) Hold the breath for 5-6 seconds, breathe out for 5-6 seconds, hold for 5-6 seconds.
Repeat this for a few minutes and note the difference in the way you feel.
What If You Can’t Breathe Through Your Nose?
If you can’t breathe through your nose because of blocked sinuses etc (which is surprisingly common)…then we need to start you at a different level.
To first unblock your sinuses so you can start to breathe properly. This normally means looking at one of the other activities we talked about at the start of the article (water, food or sleep), and getting that right so your sinus problems clear up and you can then focus on breathing right.
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