How to Breathe Properly – A (Surprisingly Important) Complete Guide

how to breatheDid you know that your regular breathing pattern is very likely screwing up your body and its functions in tons of different ways?

Yup. Without knowing it you might be messing up your sleep, mood, digestion, heart, nervous system, muscles, brain and even the development of your teeth and face structure. Yayks.

On the flip side are all the benefits to be gained from learning a few simple principles for proper breathing.

These would be more energy, improved health, greater harmony, less anxiety, less fear, better relationships and just a happier life in general.

Sounds pretty good right?

Conscious Breathing

So, what is correct breathing anyway?  In short, it means breathing in a way that is physiologically optimal for your body. It’s the way you’re designed to breathe, only you were never taught how to.

Most of us breathe in a way that leaves a lot of room for improvement. Some examples would be over-breathing, holding our breath and/or shallow breathing.

These breathing patterns are very stressful for the body and lead to a shortage of oxygen and energy.

The solution to these issues is to become highly conscious of the way you breathe and reshape your habitual way of breathing.

So, why is this important?

The Consequences of Sucking at Breathing

Bad breathing habits can give rise to a lot of unexpected negative effects on our health and well-being. Some of the most crucial ones being:

The nervous system becomes unbalanced - The breath is very important in maintaining a balanced body because each breath has an immediate effect on the nervous system. Imagine inhaling being the gas and exhaling the breaks. A dysfunctional breathing habit, like a short and forced one, results in a tense body and much higher levels of stress.

The airways get tighter - Which makes it harder for the air to make its way to and from the lungs. To compensate, we have to work harder and breathe faster to get the same work done.

The blood vessels constrict - Which can lead to higher blood pressure and which in turn makes the heart work harder.

Less energy is produced - Bad breathing lessens the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the cells. The cells get stressed and has to prioritize survival instead of development.

Each and every single one of the processes in the body are dependent on oxygen. Some of our most work intensive organs are:

  • The brain – Uses 20% of the oxygen we consume. When there’s a shortage of oxygen the brain will work slower and since the brain regulates a lot of other functions in the body these are also affected.
  • The heart – Constantly active and beating about 100.000 times in a single day the heart is a huge consumer of oxygen and shortage in supply means the heart can’t pump out blood as effectively. This leads to bad circulation and the result can be cold hands and feet.
  • The muscles – Oxygen shortage has a negative effect on stamina as the muscles go stiff, tense and tired faster.

Now, there are plenty more ways that bad breathing effects our bodies, including crooked teeth and “craniofacial abnormalities” but I won’t go into more depth here as I think you get the idea. :)

The 5 Easy Principles of Proper Breathing

The nose is for breathing, the mouth is for eating.  -Proverb

entspannug

Wow, that’s a whole lot of crappy aversive effects you might think. And you’d be right. Luckily there are 5 easy principles to follow to optimize your breathing and gain all the positive effects that comes with it.

Here’s how to make more of the 25.000 breaths you take every day more relaxed and harmonic while reducing breaths that are stressed and/or tense. It’s quite easy once you get the hang of it:

1. Breathe through the nose
The breath should go in and out through the nose. Your nose is kind of like a factory that refines and prepares the air coming in to be used by the body as effectively as possible.

When you breathe through your mouth the lungs get a lot more “unfiltered” air that is raw, cold, dry and full of viruses and bacteria. Be kind to your lungs and breathe through your nose, will ya?

If you feel like your nose is way to stuffy to close your mouth that’s most likely because you’ve been breathing through your mouth for so long that your nose has adapted.

Usually it won’t take more than a couple of days of nose breathing to open up your nostrils again.

2. Breathe with the diaphragm
The air you breath in through your nose should go all the way down to your belly. Your breathing muscles consist of the diaphragm and muscles in the abdomen, chest, neck and shoulders.

70-80% of the inhaling should be done by the diaphragm so that your breathing is nice and deep. This has a couple of advantages:

  • It helps your lungs with the gas exchange which is much more effective way down in the lungs.
  • The diaphragm massages your liver, stomach and intestines and gives these organs a rhythmical balance.
  • The lymphatic system, which is important for our immune system, gets the help it needs to get rid of the waste products from the bowels.
  • The pressure in the chest and belly is decreased so that the heart won’t have to work as hard.
  • More effective muscle work as the wrong breathing muscles won’t have to do unnecessary work.
  • As the chest gets more relaxed so does the neck and shoulders and a s a result the likelihood of pain in these areas go down.

3. Breathe relaxed
No matter what we want to do, we do it better if we are relaxed. Since our breathing reflect our thoughts, feelings and physical body it means that situations that have us feeling tense also  lead to tense and stressed breathing. This way of breathing then leads to a lack of oxygen which in turn makes the body and brain even more stressed.

By taking control of our breathing and making it more relaxed, our body tunes in and becomes relaxed as well which leads to better functioning in general.

When the body is relaxed, health is good, energy is high and it becomes easier to be happy and loving toward yourself and others.

 4. Breathe rhytmically
Everything has a natural rhythm – the ocean waves, the seasons, the moon. Your body is no different. The rhythm of the heart is measured in EKG and the brain in EEG.

The hormones in the body follows our natural rhythm. One example the melatonin that is released when we’re going to sleep.

Optimal breathing is no different, it’s in the rhytm we find well-being. When everything is in tune the body functions at it’s very best.

5. Breathe silently
Coughing, snoring, sniffling and so on are suboptimal breaths in disguise.

It’s easy to neglect all these sounds we are making but a breathing pattern that contain a lot of these elements is a huge strain to the body. The natural breath falls out of its rhythm and we mess up principle number 4.

Before we sigh or cough we usually take a big breath which leads to irregular breathing. Snoring means we have to compansate through breathing faster.

A lot of us breathe quickly and even loudly when we talk. All these noises and talking lead to incorrect breathing.

5 Easy Ways to Proper Breathing

Ok great, but how do I implement correct breathing into my own life?

1. Concious breathingBecome aware of how you breathe during different parts of the day. A practical tip for this is to let your phone alarm go off every hour or so and check your breathing each time it does. Are you breathing relaxed, rhythmically, silently and deeply through your nose? Is there room for improvement in this particular situation?

2. Breathe through your nose - A closed mouth, with the tongue placed up the palate ensures that the breathing happens in and out the nose. If your nose is stuffy, do a sinus rinse.

3. Extended exhale - An extended exhale increases the relaxation and makes the inhale deeper and more rhythmical. For optimal breathing the inhale should be 2-3 seconds, exhale 3-4 seconds followed by a pause for 2-3 seconds. The extended exhale also has a positive effect on the inhale which gets deeper.

4. Straight posture - An upright posture gives a deeper breathing where the diaphragm gets more space to work. Your thoughts and feelings are affected in a positive way and at the same time it gets easier to breathe through the nose.

5. Body consciousness - Be aware of your body and how tense or relaxed it is in different situations. A relaxed body makes it easier to keep a rhythmical and relaxed breathing.

Now I got two things for you to do:

1: Make a habit out of practicing conscious breathing and let us know in the comments how you go about it and the improvements you notice.

2: Help 2 of your friends stay healthy, get more energy and greater harmony by e-mailing this article to them.

Thanks for reading and taking action – you take my breath away. ;)

This article was inspired by, and based on, the Swedish book “Medveten andning: Grunden för hälsa, energi & harmoni” by Anders Olsson.

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Comments

  1. I will try this the best way I can! :)

    thanks for a very informative post.

    // J L

  2. Patrik,

    Breathing, something that seems so simple to do. But it isn’t really, is it?

    Love the way you pointed out not only the importance of breathing the right way, but gave some real practical tips for doing it right. As you stated in the title, “a complete guide!”

    • Yup, it’s really easy to perceive breathing as simple since we are constantly doing it but that doesn’t mean we’re doing it right.

  3. Good post Patrik. I’ve done most of the things you recommend here.

    I used to have a bit of trouble breathing (my nose has always been a bit strange) but by really focusing on it for years I’ve gotten plenty better – especially when exercising.

    It was a major handicap when I didn’t breathe properly.

    • Patrik Edblad says:

      I’ve also made a lot of progress since learning about this stuff – especially becoming aware of my patterns and breathing through my nose. A nice side benefit of this is that the act of becoming aware of my breath centers me in the present moment which is a key practice in mindfulness training.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post Ludvig, and I’ll make sure to check out your blog as it looks plenty interesting. :)

  4. Max Donohoe says:

    I know I breathe badly but I don’t really understand how to breathe with the diaphragm. Is there some way I can enlist real life practical support to master this? What would you recommend.

    • Patrik Edblad says:

      Hey Max,

      I’d recommend practicing conscious breathing so that you get used to what proper breathing feels like. Follow the steps outlined in the article – Have your mouth closed and then inhale deep down in your belly for 2-3 seconds, exhale 3-4 for seconds and then pause for 2-3 seconds before repeating. Make sure that your body posture is good and that your breathing is relaxed and rhythmical. Once you got that down, set a timer on your phone and practice proper breathing every time it goes off. I hope that helps. :)

  5. I think that nasal breathing 24/7 in and out is the very first, yet very crucial and important, step in proper breathing (and overall wellbeing). Yes, that includes breathing in AND out through the nose during exercise as well as no mouth breathing during sleep. Just by changing your basal breathing to constant nasal breathing guarantees improvement in your health (assuming that basal breathing isn’t currently 100% nasal).

    I assume you know the Buteyko method? By breathing through the nose 24/7, doing some Buteyko exercises, and doing physical exercise with strictly nasal breathing (in and out), I have noticed great results in less than a month:
    - More energy and less sleep (usually 7 hours of good sleep and no morning sleepiness; earlier I used to sleep 8-9 hours but still be tired in the morning)
    - Better digestion and greatly reduced “soiling effect” (amount of residue left in the anus after pooping), less swelling
    - Better concentration and productivity, less procastination
    - Lower body fat (body fat percentage and amount of visceral fat (visceral fat classification; used to be 2, now has dropped to 1, while 30 is the highest), measured with Omron BF511)
    - And lots of more, I listed the most important and notable things above :)

    I know it sounds exaggerated and unbelievable, but it indeed is amazing. I think that children should be taught about Buteyko method and proper breathing in the school. I have crooked bottom teeth and my bottom jaw is clearly V-shaped (as opposed to U-shaped), damn. :)

    Have you used the Relaxator?

    Cheers. :)

    • Patrik Edblad says:

      Wow Matias, those are some awesome effects and I totally agree proper breathing should be taught in schools.

      Nope, never used the Relaxator. How about you?

      Cheers! :)

      • No, I haven’t used the Relaxator. I discovered it only after reading this page, as I noticed that you were inspired by Anders Olsson (the creator of the Relaxator, I suppose), so I was just curious.

        I’m going to make my own modified Frolov/Breathslim device (“Amazing DIY Device” by Artour Rakhimov) later, I think it will be more powerful than the Relaxator. Have you used any breathing devices? :)

  6. I used to be so conscious of my breathing but then I thought I was just being weird , who in the world would make a habit in observing their way of breathing. I thought I was being silly so I stopped paying attention to it. Now I read this and it feels so good knowing I was actually doing the right thing for my body.

    • Patrik Edblad says:

      Yup, being aware of your breathing is actually a desirable skill and something I wish I was doing more. :)

  7. Isn’t yoga based on breathing?
    Interesting and informative.
    Alarm every hour will not work for some employed people.
    Thanks

    • Patrik Edblad says:

      Hey Tom,

      I’m not sure about yoga as I haven’t been practicing it myself. The alarm clock technique won’t always fit into our busy lives but it’s worth fitting it in whenever we can.

      I’m glad you liked the article! :)

  8. Thanks, Patrick! I shall be focusing on these, and will pass them to my IT team at work too, since somedays we have high stress environment, and that gets coupled with bad posture. Started workikng on breathing more silently already.

    Godspeed,
    -M Marcus

  9. I lost my left lung to cancer 8 years ago. I am thankful that I was able to overcome the disease and I have progressed quite well by concentrating on my breathing but I never seem to be able to catch a “deep breath” , and any prolonged physical workout remains limited. Any special tips or methods to increase the capacity of the remaining lung ??
    Many thanks.

  10. Enjoyed reading your post!
    Was curious as to whether you had any links to research papers or the like to support some of the things you’ve written?

    Thanks again for taking the time to put this stuff out there

    • Patrik Edblad says:

      Thanks for getting in touch! As I mention in the bottom of the post the article is based on the work of Anders Olsson who’s been conducting full time research on breathing since 2009. If you’re looking for scientific back up for something in particular just let me know and I’ll try to find it for you. :)

  11. gr8 article! very much useful !!

  12. rocketmouse says:

    How can I do *any* of this with a deviated septum? When I went to PT after “getting screwed” with three screws to hold my femur and femoral neck, I discovered that breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth as recommended was extremely difficult if not impossible. I would like to do well by my body, especially since the femoral break (with attending femoral neck displacement) is way too slow in healing.

  13. We are all to busy in our cubical to concentrate on proper breathing techniques.

    Any relation to Jeff Dachis?

  14. Although I’m affected by all the negative effects of bad breathing, it is almost impossible for me to breath through the nose. The air circulation is always blocked in my nose and after a few inhales/exhales I am short in oxygen. I have 24/7 one of my nostril completly blocked (weirdly, never the same one) and I wish I could do something about that :(
    Great article though, I’m pretty sure all of my energy, eating, sleep and lack of concentration issues come from my breathing now.

  15. Tom Landers says:

    If you tilt your pelvis forward, tucking your bum in, it impels you to breathe correctly.

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