Health Self

Breathe better

By Fiona Bugler • 17th March 2021

Breathing has become a focal point in the COVID era. How we breathe can tell us about the condition of our lungs and physical health – and our mental health too. The basic art of breathing is being taught to help us recover from the last year, both physically and emotionally. Good breathing, experts say, can help us to live healthier, happier lives.

Breathing has become a focal point in the COVID era. How we breathe can tell us about the condition of our lungs and physical health – and our mental health too. The basic art of breathing is being taught to help us recover from the last year, both physically and emotionally. Good breathing, experts say, can help us to live healthier, happier lives.

Many who are post-COVID, and in recovery, have experienced dysfunctional breathing (from asthma to more serious complications) and respiratory physios, along with psychologists, and occupational therapists, i.e. multi-disciplinary teams are being called in to help.

According to James Nestor, we breathe 25,000 a times a day – and we should therefore pay attention to our breath!

The “Just Breathe!” trend in the 2021 Global Wellness Trends Report highlighted the rise in breath as a focal point in wellness. “Creative practitioners are using breathwork in many new ways — from fitness and rehabilitation to relief from trauma and PTSD. And it’s a trend that reveals how so much of the medicine in wellness comes from the people-to-people connections, the community and community-building,” they say.

Dysfunctional Breathing (DB)

In the simplest terms when our breathing is dysfunctional we don’t exhale fully and the body has a lower tolerance to carbon dioxide.

People who have DB tend to breathe rapidly through the mouth, hold tension in their shoulders and breathe using the upper chest. This can cause symptoms of hyperventilation.

Breathe through your nose

To master breathing we need to breathe through the nose, which is our body’s natural filter, but it’s not straightforward, as many people have respiratory issues which stop them being able to nose breathe. If you’re a mouth breather (I am) you may experience snoring and sleep apnea, that’s because you’ll get 20 per cent less oxygen than when you breathe through your nose. Start by becoming conscious of how you breathe, and if it’s through the mouth, set some time aside every day to shut your mouth and breathe in and out through your nose. You can also try strips to open up the airways in the nose, such as Breathe Strips and you can tape your mouth too, try mouth strips from Somnifix.

Control your breath

The British Lung Foundation recommend controlled relaxed breathing, using techniques similar to those used in yoga. Breathe in and fill your lungs with air, as you do this your diaphragm will push down and your belly gently lifts, as you release breath through the nose the lungs deflate and the belly flattens. Find some more techniques here.

Try singing for breathing

English National Opera and Imperial College Healthcare have joined forces to teach people to breath properly post covid.

Building on techniques used by singers, the holistic online programme offers self-management tools for patients experiencing breathlessness, and the anxiety that this can produce. Find out more here.

Mediation, mindfulness and yoga breathing

The focus in mediation and mindfulness is the breath. Controlled, relaxed breathing allows us to hone in on the here and now. Slowing down the breath and focussing on it in these practises has been shown to strengthen the muscles in the chest and improve immunity by reducing stress.

For centuries yogis have used breath control, or pranayama, to promote concentration and improve vitality. Buddha advocated breath-meditation as a way to reach enlightenment.

Breath – a spiritual life force

Yogi Banker, Scott Robinson, says that becoming connected to your breath is life-affirming. He explains that the latin word ‘to breathe’ is ‘spiritus’. “The word ‘spirit’ is used in many contexts,” explains Scott. “We may consider someone as ‘spiritual’, or the ‘holy spirit’ in Christianity,” he says. “Underneath all of this, is a deep, inherent connection to living, represented through the breath,” he adds.

“When we become anxious, our breathing becomes short and shallow. Life itself feels threatened. When we become relaxed, our breathing becomes long and deep. Life itself feels safe. When our bodies can no longer sustain life, the breath and our spirit leaves the body. There is no energy anymore. We become devoid of life.”

Breath Teachers

Wim Hof has reached a whole new audience during the pandemic as more of us jumped in cold water when swimming pools were closed or tried out his breathing techniques. Check out his breathing techniques in the video below.

Breath – the book

Breath by James Nestor has been a global bestseller and Nestor has been the darling of the wellbeing podcast world. In the book he says he, “explores the million-year-long history of how the human species has lost the ability to breathe properly and why we’re suffering from a laundry list of maladies—snoring, sleep apnea, asthma, autoimmune disease, allergies—because of it.”

Check out his podcast interview with Dr Rangan Chaterjee here for an insight into Nestor’s findings.

Find out about more trends in Breathing in this fantastic article from the Global Wellness Trend Reports. 

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor (Penguin Life, £16.99), buy it here.

Global Wellness Summit Wellbeing trends 2021

Fiona Bugler

Fiona is the creator of all things editorial, she’s a journalist with a life-long passion for health, fitness and wellbeing. For more than a decade she worked with business leaders and large groups as a personal trainer and running coach and this background informs the content she creates.

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