We breathe our whole life and take 20000 breaths a day on average. Breath is life; without it, we can only survive for a few minutes. Since we breathe automatically, we usually take it for granted and rarely pay attention to it or its quality. Breath is, however, the only basic autonomic function of the body we can influence at will. This can be necessary for survival. For example, we can avoid inhaling toxic smoke by holding our breath and moving away from the smoke. However, this vital ability can lead to chronic false breathing. Incorrect, dysfunctional breathing can cause health problems. On the other hand, good breathing or good respiratory hygiene can positively affect and improve long-term well-being. It can lead to better, more restful sleep, more energy, and lower stress levels, improving digestion and strengthening the immune system.
According to estimates, over 80% of people do not breathe optimally; some even refer to 90%. Most people breathe more than what is actually good for them. This can be compared to eating. Food is essential for life. However, overeating every day for an extended period of time is not healthy. It's the same with breathing. We need to breathe to live, but too much, i.e. taking big breaths or doing so too frequently, causes an imbalance in the body's biochemistry, promoting illness in the long term. How you breathe while you sleep also has an enormous impact on our body. Wrong breathing throughout the night and thus developing an incorrect breathing pattern can lead to fatal consequences. Firstly, it can lead to snoring. This can significantly affect sleep quality and result in fatigue during the day. Incorrect breathing habits can further lead to various chronic, more serious diseases such as sleep apnea, heart disease, panic attacks, depression, back pain, and skin diseases.
What is functional breathing?
There are a few simple basic rules for healthy, functional breathing. The nose should be used exclusively for breathing, while the mouth is for eating. The nose has various important functions lost by breathing through the mouth. It filters the air and warms and humidifies it before entering the lungs. Optimal breathing is quiet, slow, gentle, and even. In addition, breathing goes down into the abdomen, called abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing, rather than into the chest. The amount of air we breathe also strongly influences our body's biochemistry, as mentioned in detail. Healthy breathing improves blood pressure, circulation, and oxygen supply. It also enables good digestion, warm hands and feet and good sleep; it promotes relaxation and lowers stress levels. We become healthier, more capable, and even more efficient.
Those who breathe through their mouths at night may wonder what to do about it. The Buteyko Method, a breathing technique that uses breath reduction training to promote healthy breathing, recommends taping the mouth shut at night. This is a very efficient and inexpensive method to prevent snoring and sleep apnea.
Breathing and eating – is there a connection?
A very big one, in fact. Our behavior around food influences our breathing at various levels. People who often have a blocked nose can adjust their diet to avoid mucus-forming foods. These include dairy products, sugar and white flour in particular. Eliminating these products from one's diet can have a positive and unblocking effect on the nose, allowing for consistent nasal breathing once again. Attention should also be paid to the quality of the food. Prepared foods and highly processed products should be avoided, the food should be as fresh as possible. This way, the food has more nutrients and less sugar and fat. A plant-based diet is preferable and provides the most benefits. Stimulants such as coffee and alcohol can be consumed in small quantities, but not in excess – this also has a negative effect on our respiratory health. The key here is to listen to your own body. There are wonderful breathing exercises that can awaken your mind as much as a coffee or promote as much relaxation as a glass of red wine. The quantity of food is also an important point. Ideally, one would only eat until one feels full or only when hungry. Sticking to these tips will usually already result in better digestion. Consistent abdominal breathing is very conducive to healthier digestion: during inhalation, the diaphragm pushes down and displaces the organs in the abdomen and thus massages them.
Yoga and breath
To use the respiratory organs as optimally as possible, you also need to consider your posture. A slouched back makes healthy breathing difficult, as the lungs cannot expand. One example is to make sure the torso is upright while sitting in front of the computer. This allows for easier diaphragmatic breathing and gives the lungs more room. Regularly practicing yoga can be very helpful for strengthening and stretching the muscles around the respiratory system, making it easier for the respiratory organs to function.
The mental benefits of healthy breathing
To show how the mental aspect affects the breath, you can imagine yourself in different situations. Your breath acts as a mirror: if I am stressed, I breathe quickly; if I am relaxed, I breathe slowly. Emotions, such as fear, joy, anger, or surprise, directly affect the breath. This is absolutely fine if there is a balance. However, if, for example, one’s stress level remains constantly high, then this adjusted breathing becomes chronic and unhealthy. Therefore, it is important to observe the breath and consciously schedule moments of relaxation during stressful periods.
Summarized, there are numerous great reasons to pay more attention to breathing. For your physical and mental well-being, it is extremely valuable to breathe consciously. It can help the body and mind find more calm and contribute significantly to the balance of the whole organism. Physical and mental health are closely connected and can hardly be separated. Even Voltaire said: "A good part of diseases can be simply breathed away."
Take the time several times a day to "just" breathe. It can even be only 3-5 minutes at a time. Close your eyes, place your hands on your chest and stomach and observe your breath. The hand on your chest should hardly move. Try to breathe only through your nose. Standing in line at the supermarket or waiting for the bus are also good moments to observe your breathing habits. Feel if you are breathing with your diaphragm (i.e. belly breathing). Consciously relax the abdomen and feel how the abdominal wall moves up and down. This works without anyone noticing, and yet it is a simple way to gradually correct incorrect breathing patterns.