Stress Detox & Breathing Easily

In downshifting this past week and being diligent in self-care to detox, I began to notice how much I was struggling to catch my breath. No cold, not an asthma attack, just every breath seemed labored. Remembering comments from a friend and fellow blogger, I began to look into “air hunger.” This lead to the book Self-Help for Hyperventilation Syndrome: Recognizing and Correcting Your Breathing-Pattern Disorder by Dinah Bradley. Since then, I’ve been relearning to breathe easily.

Most of us think of hyperventilating as something that is acute and requires a paper bag to cure (use caution with this, and avoid if having an asthma attack). However, in the book, Bradley discusses at length how hyperventilation can also become a less dramatic and chronic breathing pattern that can cause some potentially serious, or at the least some very bothersome health problems.

Examples of symptoms include: fatigue, anxiety, lethargy, depression, muscle aches, muscle tension, chest pain, numbness/tingling, and shortness of breath. When examined by a physician, having tests performed, and blood drawn patients were left without any answers as to the cause of their suffering.  In the book, Bradley explains the physiology behind hyperventilation syndrome leading to the symptoms. Please seek immediate medical attention if you are having chest pains and/or shortness of breath! It’s better to get any emergency medical conditions ruled out. 

When we breath through our mouths or quickly through our nostrils, it activates the stress response which then reinforces the breathing pattern; one which then becomes difficult to break. Frequent yawning, sighing or feeling like you cannot catch your breath are signs that you may have a hyperventilation breathing pattern. Breath retraining and making some lifestyle changes may be helpful.

Wear clothing that does not restrict your body, particularly your belly and chest from moving. Sitting upright with good posture also supports better breathing, as slouching impairs the movements of respiration. Focus on the exhale, more than breathing in. Be sure to keep your mouth closed, if your nostrils are not congested, with most of your non-exertion activities. Try to make the exhale “low and slow” while slightly pulling in at your belly and keep the breath as quiet as it can be. At the end of the exhale, pause slightly and then allow your belly to relax with the inhale. Keep the muscles of your neck and throat relaxed while you breathe in.

I highly recommend the book, it has many suggestions for ways to help support breathing more easily. There is no need to struggle to breathe.

May we all breathe easier and enjoy life more deeply today and everyday.  


How Breathing Can Affect Your Life


While the body can survive without the need for food for weeks, and water for days, without breathing for just a few minutes causes irreversible cell damage and even death of the body. Breathing is living and not breathing is death. If you feel like a zombie maybe you’re not breathing properly.

Breathing, or respiration is defined as all of the processes involved in breathing from the big picture to the cellular level.

Respiration also is the process of breathing in and out. (think: respirator, respiratory therapist, etc).

Inspiration is the process of breathing in. It is also the process of being compelled to do, be or feel something. When we breathe in, we are being inspired to our higher callings.

Expiration is the process of breathing out. It is also the ending of a process (think: expired food, or death itself). Energetically speaking when breathing out, we are getting rid of the things that no longer work for us.

Balanced breathing occurs when our inhalation (inspiration) or in breath takes as long as our exhalation (expiration) or out breath. This type of breathing keeps us present in the moment. Let’s now explore some ways in which people often breathe in a dysfunctional way.

As a physical therapist, I work with people every day who breathe paradoxically, or backwards. When breathing in, most people expand their chests, raising their shoulders and using their “accessory” breathing muscles. These muscles are helper muscles that are not made for breathing, but can assist in breathing in. Excessive use of accessory breathing muscles can be seen in asthma suffers and those who do not breath properly. This can cause excessive tension in the shoulders and neck muscles.

From a physiological perspective, shallow or paradoxical breathing results in body tissues that are deprived of oxygen and this leads to higher levels of acidity (low pH) in the blood. Areas of tight muscles, or trigger points, have been scientifically found to have low oxygen levels, called hypoxia, as well as higher acidity levels (low pH). These factors are also found to increase the risk of pain. So improper breathing could be part of why people experience chronic pain. This pain will not be revealed on an MRI or CT scan (specially trained physicians, chiropractors and PTs can help with identifying trigger points and treating them with techniques such as dry needling).

Now let’s take a look at expiration, or breathing out. When we breathe out, we are energetically releasing that which no longer serves us. By keeping our bellies pulled in tightly during our in breath and then expanding our bellies on our out breath, we are actually trapping carbon dioxide in the lower lobes of us lungs. This reinforces the physiology of higher acidity in the tissues, as described above. If we are not letting go, so to speak, of our wastes, then no wonder we can feel crappy, depressed, or angry.

So improper breathing keeps us from feeling our inspiration at the same time as keeping us stuck in the emotions that we wish to release, because we hold onto it when we cannot properly exhale (expire or end the process).

When we breathe properly, from a mechanical perspective, our bellies expand freely during inspiration with our lungs, and we keep our shoulders relaxed. This allows us to feel fully, to be inspired and to bring more life to our cells. When we breathe out properly, we release more carbon dioxide (a waste product from cellular respiration) by slightly contracting our abdomens. So, in essence, the belly moves in as the lungs exhale and the belly moves out as the lungs inhale.

There is a great book that even shows how we breathe affects our posture. I read it years ago and highly recommend it, as it helps you to identify some of your core issues as well as how to regain your health, vitality and posture. It is by Donna Harhi, The Breathing Book.

I also encourage you to check out this blog, by Countingsheepstudio.

This blog is also dedicated to breathing, by The Breath Alchemist.

Happy breathing, feeling, being inspired and releasing!




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