• Matt Babb

The Underrated Power of Breathing

Vitality, meditation, performance, focus, peace - breathe it all in and out

Breath could de described as our most primary food, without which we would starve in mere minutes. Our respiration inextricably binds us to the natural world of plants and photosynthetic algae. It powers our trillions of cells so that they may undertake the unfathomably complex array of operations that keep us alive. Learning to regulate our breathing is just as crucial (and arguably more so) as regulating our sleep, our physical exercise, or our nutrition. In addition, it complements the other methods and techniques presented on this site.


But, before, we discuss any exercises or techniques for how to do this, we should build a framework for understanding just how important this seemingly incidental capacity really is.


Breath, by James Nestor

This book is (in my humble opinion) absolutely revolutionary for psychological and physical health science.

James Nestor is a journalist who took it upon himself to not only deeply review the complex and fascinating literature around the science of human breathing, but he also put some of its claims to the test.

The experiment: Nestor and his colleague decided to run a large battery of tests on themselves, assessing their overall health, exercise ability, and sleep quality, and then proceeded to plug their noses with silicone plugs for 10 days to see what happened. What could go wrong?

Turns out, a lot went wrong. Over the course of 10 days:


-his snoring increased 4,820 percent

-he rose to 25 sleep apnea events each night (defined as oxygen levels dropping below 85% [which is NOT good])

-his blood pressure spiked by about 13 points on average (stage 1 hypertension)

-he become plagued by a general sense of dread and feeling of deep unhealth

Fortunately, Nestor and his colleague were able to reverse all of this damage by removing the plugs, and then engaging in a thorough set of breathing exercises designed to repair his breathing capabilities and return all of his vitals to a state of homeostasis and well-being (all of those exercises are found in the book).

Nestor's book is a mind-blowing dive into this fascinating and indispensable capacity that so many of us take for granted. It's full of history, science, shocking stats, and practical exercises to help you use your breath to boost your vitals in myriad domains.

But how big is the problem anyway?

-40% of people today are chronic mouth breathers [1] [2]

-45% of US adults snore [3]

-25% of US adults over 30 have sleep apnea [4]

-85% of moderate/severe sleep apnea cases are undiagnosed [5]


​The Dangers of Mouth Breathing

We humans aren't meant to breath through our mouths for extended periods of time. If left unchecked, it can wreak havoc on our mental well-being, our health, and (surprisingly) our facial anatomy itself.

In the short term, mouth breathing:

-saps athletic performance and makes us fatigue more quickly [6]

-causes the body to lose 40% more water [7]

-can cause bad breath [8]

But in the longer term, mouth breathing:

-can lead to malocclusion (crooked teeth) and changes in the shape of the mouth and nasal cavities, constricting them and further complicating nasal breathing [9]

-can impair learning and memory [10]

-can lead to periodontal disease, cavities, and sleep apnea [11]


Learning to nasal breath can reduce or reverse many of these issues, even if they've been present for quite some time [12]. Paired with cardiovascular exercise, lung capacity can be regained [13], and with it, quality of life, quality of sleep, and more years of happy health. [14]


But how exactly do we do this? Introducing....


Pranayama

Pranayama (often retranslated as 'breathwork', but more literally means something like 'to control one's life-force') is the yogic skill of directing and regulating your energy. Pranayama is one of the eight 'limbs' of Raja Yoga, and is frequently paired with asana (postures). The usual tool for pranayama is the breath, which has been widely regarded in diverse cultures across time as the tool of choice when it comes to making immediate impacts on your health, mood, and mentality.


There are dozens of pranayamic exercises available, with virtually infinite variations once you begin using systematic counting schemes. For an introduction into pranayama, check out B.K.S. Iyengar's book Light on Pranayama.

In Summary

Reconnecting with your conscious breath is not only crucial to avoiding disease and unhealth, but it can also open your body and mind up to the natural focus and levity that comes from the potent vitality of a well-trained respiratory system. The body is superbly interconnected. More health for one system yields greater potential for health elsewhere. Improved respiratory health yields improved psychological health, improved endocrine health, lymphatic health, cardio-vascular health, and vice versa for every combination. The systems spiral upward. As I referenced above, lung capacity is a strong predictor of life-span. [14]


People frequently understand and credit the importance of nutrition, sleep/recovery, and physical training in regard to holistic health, and they are right to do so. But the breath underlies it all, and is always available for us to use for our benefit. I long for a world in which breathwork is as standard a practice as weight-lifting, running, swimming, and stretching, and if my work can contribute to that normalization, I will be supremely proud.


With clients, I typically start sessions with breathwork in order to settle the mind, sharpen the focus, and open the heart, so to speak. What's more, we can factor in your goals with coaching, and I can help you create a pranayama regimen for you to practice on your own. The physical and psychological benefits that pranayama can bring will add to your momentum as you gradually begin to take back agency over your life and your progress. Please reach out via the Contact page on my website and we can set up your free first session.


And for those who are eager, if you'd like to dive right in and start practicing pranayama now, please check out my Pranayama YouTube playlist, where I explain and guide you through the exercises in real time:

[coming soon]


Thanks for reading!

Sources:


https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17119778/


https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18830512/


https://www.sleephealthjournal.org/article/S2352-7218(14)00009-6/pdf


https://aasm.org/rising-prevalence-of-sleep-apnea-in-u-s-threatens-public-health/#:~:text=Clinical%20Resources-,Rising%20prevalence%20of%20sleep%20apnea%20in%20U.S.%20threatens%20public%20health,National%20Healthy%20Sleep%20Awareness%20Project.


https://www.healio.com/news/primary-care/20190412/sleep-apnea-common-but-underdiagnosed-how-to-spot-the-disease


https://adamcap.com/2013/11/29/the-nose-knows/#21


https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16550955/


https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3129960/


https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6939331/


https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24169579/


https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6986941/


https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/088954069170044W?casa_token=0BxYNG53e-gAAAAA:FPfpvgTyKmbQ20W6CP16WL-h4mUQnk3ACmCisbjAMN-ATCH_7XQbdmP95k2Gy0sT8FvfdW0zzwQ


https://lunginstitute.com/blog/increase-lung-capacity-5-easy-steps/


http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2000/09/4857.html


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