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Breathing to Boost Health

In the introduction to his book the Oxygen Advantage (2015), Patrick McKeown highlights that:

  • we can live without food for around three weeks, 
  • we can live without water for a few days,
  • but we may only be able to survive without breathing for five to ten minutes. 

We spend a significant amount of time trying to optimise the quality and quantity of our food and water, without paying as much attention to the quality and quantity of our breath. 

There are studies showing how our modern lifestyles are impacting our breathing, for example it has been shown that restrictive clothing (popular in the younger female population) significantly impacts how well we breathe (MacHose & Peper, 1991), as does excessive obesity and pregnancy. Further, the same younger female population, when wearing restrictive clothing, often hold their stomachs in for long periods of time in efforts to look good with a flatter stomach or avoid teasing from peers. Little do they realise that not allowing muscles to regularly relax and contract prevents them from circulating fresh nutrients around the area and flushing out waste, which weakens the stomach muscles, affects overall posture and can lead to back problems (Farhi, 1996).

In contrast to this modern lifestyle and skewed values, mothers in indigenous tribes have been observed to gently close their babies mouths whilst they’re sleeping, teaching them to breathe correctly through their noses from birth, understanding instinctively the future benefits of doing so. One key difference between modern society and these tribal women is diet, a point observed by Dr Weston Price when investigating the cause of facial changes and crooked teeth in children from different countries and in particular the differences between civilised and uncivilised communities. Dr Price took many photographs of tribal children with skulls and wider shaped jaws admiring the shape and health of their teeth. 

The modern diet of processed, refined foods, too much meat and dairy, and not enough plants causes our immune systems to activate. This can be interpreted by the body as stress which will increase breathing rate, but also generates a fair amount of mucous as a protective measure, particularly in the nose and respiratory tract. Over time this causes issues like sinus problems, colds and flu, snoring, sleep apnoea, hay fever, nasal congestion and asthma, all of which make it difficult to breathe through your nose and so we have become accustomed to using our mouths. But the consequences of chronic mouth-breathing and over-breathing can be detrimental to our health.

Work with me to address the quality and quantity of your breath, understand how it changes regularly and why, and how you can use it to activate your parasympathetic nervous system to help you relax. In doing so you may experience some of the following possible benefits of improved breathing, clearer airways and better oxygen uptake: