Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
20 Apr

How to Breathe Correctly

Unless the afterlife has wifi, I can presume that you’re alive and reasonably well if you’re reading this post, so I’m going to assume you’ve been successfully breathing for some time. You get enough oxygen into your blood to support your physiological requirements and power your limbs, organs, and muscles. You know how to inhale, and exhaling is a breeze. You even know how to breathe through your nostrils like a champ. In other words, you can breathe well enough to live. What could you possibly be missing?

There’s a pretty good chance you aren’t breathing correctly. At rest, when sleeping, while running – you can probably breathe different and breathe better. Okay, you’re willing to accept that, as a whole, we’ve missed the mark on a host of supposedly mundane activities – eating, exercising, sitting, sleeping, standing, washing, heck, even pooping – but breathing? You’ve gone too far this time, Sisson. You’re firmly in the deep end. I breathe just fine.

Hear me out, and before you read any further, I’m going to have you take a deeeeep breath, so I can show you what you’re doing wrong. Don’t skip ahead; no cheating.

Put your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your abdomen. Take a big breath by inhaling through your nose or your mouth (whichever is most natural for you), slowly. Really fill your lungs, and note which hand rises more. Did your right hand move first and most, with your left hand lagging behind – if it moved at all? Did your shoulders go up? Did your traps rise like you were shrugging a couple dumbbells? Congratulations, you are a chest breather.

Now, procure an infant, preferably one with an exposed, protruding belly. Gender matters not. Got one? Great. Lay your infant on its back and watch how the kid breathes. Does his chest rise and rib cage expand? Maybe a little, but the bulk of the action is happening in the belly button region, right? That kid is “belly breathing.” In other words, he is using his diaphragm, a sheet of muscle located between the thoracic and abdominal cavities that (if you do it right) draws oxygen into the lungs upon activation. When it contracts, it moves down into the abdominal cavity, pushing the belly out, increasing the capacity of the lungs while lowering the air pressure, thus spurring the influx of oxygen. The external intercostals, muscles located between the ribs (flex your core with a finger on your ribs and you’ll feel the intercostals fill the gaps), also assist with respiration, but the diaphragm is the prime mover.

If your right hand rose first and most prominently in the previous exercise, you did not effectively utilize your diaphragm. Like the office worker with inactive glutes from too much sitting, you have an inactive diaphragm. Your synergist muscles – the helper muscles that assist the prime mover – are forced to take over. Without the diaphragm contracting and opening up the lower half of the lungs, less space is available for incoming air. Not only that, but according to some, the lower half of the lungs is also by far the most efficient at delivering oxygen; the bottom 13% of the lungs brings in 60 mL O2 per minute, while the top 7% only brings in 4 mL per minute. Chest breathing to the exclusion of diaphragmatic breathing (and that bottom 13%), then, is highly inefficient because it squanders added capacity and more effective tissue.

To really accentuate the inefficiency and help you understand how exclusively chest breathing limits your oxygen, let’s try a couple quick exercises. Stand tall and shrug your shoulders up toward your ears. Hold that position and take a deep breath. Or, rather, try to take a deep breath. You can’t do it. You can take in some air, but not a lot, and what you can take in sounds labored. There’s a big whooshing sound that just doesn’t feel right. It feels… weak.

Next, hunch over at the thoracic spine. Imagine you’re typing away at the computer (shouldn’t be too hard, seeing as how you’re probably reading this post on a computer) and let your chest cave in, your shoulder blades spread out, and your head droop forward. In other words, give yourself the type of terrible posture that millions of us sport each day. Hold that position and try to take a deep breath. It’s belabored, right?

Finally, suck in your gut. Flex those abs and flatten that belly. Inhale, and note how thin and ineffectual your breathing sounds and feels. Your diaphragm is pinned against your contracted abdominal muscles. It can’t go anywhere. It can’t do anything, and your breathing suffers for it.

These seemingly exaggerated scenarios actually are not. Realize that a good portion of people go about their day with tight traps, shrugged shoulders, rounded backs, and caved-in chests, constantly sucking in their stomachs as they try to breathe. You see them every day. You work with them. You might even do it yourself without realizing. It’s anything but rare. It’s normal! Alan Watts writes of this “normal” breathing as “fitful and anxious,” with residual air “always being held and not fully released.” Folks hold onto their air and simply pile more on top with the next breath, rather than breathe completely in and completely out each time. They get new air mixed in with the old stuff, enough to function but not enough to thrive. You’ll notice that the only time they truly expel everything from the lungs is when some stressful event elicits a massively audible sigh. That sigh clears everything out and brings a fresh supply of air back in, thus giving a boost of oxygen to the blood and helping us deal with the stress. In other words, most of us can’t even figure out how to breathe deeply in and out on our own to promote relaxation. We rely on our subconscious to do it for us.

I say, why wait for our subconscious to kick in? Why not practice proper breathing at all times and reap the benefits without having to wait till stress accumulates and does it for us? Why not do some diaphragmatic, or belly breathing?

You can do this lying down or standing up. To start with, I prefer lying down because it lets you really relax and focus on the movement of the diaphragm. Place your hands on your belly, or even lay a book with reasonable heft on your belly (this will give you something to brace against). Now, take a deep breath and let your belly expand as your diaphragm asserts itself. Your chest and shoulders may rise and your ribs may expand, but this is totally normal and expected as long as the belly moves first. Next, slowly exhale while tightening your core and contracting your abs. As the abdominal muscles contract, they’ll push the diaphragm back up. This will reduce the volume of the thoracic cavity, increase the air pressure, and expel the air contained therein. Continue to take deep diaphragmatic breaths for a couple minutes. Inhale three seconds, exhale six to ten seconds. Big, deep, slow, relaxing breaths.

Do you feel the difference? The relaxation? You might even fall asleep if you’re not careful. While there appear to be objective benefits to making this your default setting, like increased oxygen supply (great for general living and athletic performance), and I’ve already gone over how deep breathing can enhance a healthy lifestyle, the real allure of breathing with your diaphragm is simply using your respiratory as it was meant to be used. The benefits we get from breathing this way – like a reduction in hypertension – stem from eliminating the short, rapid, vapid breaths of chest breathing. We’re not getting “more” or “extra” oxygen; we’re just getting the amount of oxygen that our body “expects.” Nay, that it deserves.

How did belly breathing work for you? Were you a chest breather, or are you way ahead of the curve to begin with? Practice it enough, and eventually it’ll become second nature. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section!

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. As a one time student of a fabulous choir director I,thankfully, learned this years ago, and am still doing it the right way today.

    Bart wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Ditto! We had a great All-County chorus teacher once that taught us all kinds of breathing exercises that really stuck with me too.

      Sarah D wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Same here! As a choir and marching band participant I have been breathing correctly for years. Add Ballet from ages 5-10 and a lot of the posture stuff is second (or first?) nature too.

      Moral of the story? Sign your kids (or yourself) for music and ballet lessons!

      <3 the arts!

      Vianki wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Me, too. Singing really teaches proper breathing. :)

      melodious wrote on April 20th, 2011
      • Yup – if you’re a singer or an instrumentalist that uses air to make the sound, you’ve pretty much got this covered. Nice to know I’m ahead of the curve on SOMETHING! :)

        Ryan wrote on April 21st, 2011
        • Same here – but I also played the flute for 8 years in addition to choir. Recently I went in and had some evaluations done for my asthma. The nurse just took a look at me after the tests and goes: “You were a band/choir student, weren’t you?”

          Those breathing exercises stick wtih you!

          Jennifer wrote on April 21st, 2011
    • For me it was marching band. “Don’t let me see those shoulders moving!” I think mostly they didn’t want our plumes bobbing around, and honestly it helped keep my lips firmly on my instrument if my shoulders weren’t moving up and down

      Zyriel wrote on April 21st, 2011
  2. As a former professional flutist, I’ve done a lot of work over the years with students just teaching them to breathe. While researching ways to overcome performance anxiety, I read an interesting article that defined anxiety as “a perceived inability to breathe.” Often when we’re stressed or anxious, we unconsciously breathe shallowly or even hold our breath. Now, whenever I’m stressed, I try to “check in” with my body to see if I’m breathing correctly, and I find that breathing deeply is a great way to release stress.

    Nicky wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Your quotation is illuminating. Thank you.

      Bronwen wrote on April 21st, 2011
  3. I learned about belly breathing years ago, but just recently an opera friend was talking about “breathing into her back”. Firm up your abs, pull your shoulders down and breathe into your lower back letting your ribs expand. You get way more air this way than pooching your belly out.

    ottercat wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Good point, ottercat. My sister in law is an opera singer grad student, and gave me some voice lessons to get more experience teaching male voice one on one.

      The expanding rib cage factor was fascinating. She showed me how she does it, but I haven’t quite got it down effortlessly.

      Joe Brancaleone wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • I’m a some-time opera singer and know what you’re talking about. You can basically use the exercise Mark described to monitor this – check the movement of the book on your belly and also monitor what your back is doing: you should feel it spreading and more of it will come into contact with the floor.

      Another way to do this is squatting (here we go again) a little against a wall (not 90 degrees, but gently, enough so your back is flat against the wall). Try the same monitored breathing. If you want to vocalise with it, let your breath hissssssssss consistently as it expires: this will certainly tell you where your diaphragm is :) Then you can try shorter hisses. I do this kind of thing when I want to wake my diaphragm up if I haven’t sung in a while.

      Kaeferin wrote on April 21st, 2011
    • THANK YOU for this. I’ve been working on breathing better, but have been finding it extremely tricky to do. I think it’s been because I’ve been pooching my belly out instead of letting the air come in via my entire trunk.

      Now I feel lightheaded and YEARS younger. My wife commented the other day that my voice is deeper as well, and I feel an inexplicable urge to sing. I’m smiling more as well.

      As someone who, at some point, started chest breathing, and then started having issues with testosterone, sleeping, stress, and anxiety, I’m beginning to wonder if this is all related, and if my breathing was the core start of it.

      David Morton wrote on August 7th, 2012
  4. If we were constantly taking in less oxygen than our bodies need, we’d die within a few minutes. How long could you survive with your head in a plastic bag? Even a bag with a little hole in it? Not long at all.

    Indeed there are a whole host of physiological control mechanisms to make sure that this happens, because our oxygen uptake MUST balance our oxygen need.

    Tim wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Less than needed is not none. You can survive off very little. By enhancing your oxygen intake you open the possibility of thriving

      Tao wrote on April 29th, 2013
  5. Terrific Post, Mark! As an educational psychologist, not only do I teach belly breathing to students who deal with anxiety, but to staff as part of a crisis intervention training. There is a fair amount of research that supports teaching patience who experience panic attacks to belly-breathe, those with moderate symptoms can alleviate their panic disorder symptoms by a daily practice of belly breathing, AND when triggers are about to happen. Great for getting your heart rate down during a heated discussion too– Dr. Gottman (marriage researcher) suggests that when our resting heart rate goes above 100 bpm, we are not working out of our frontal cortex where problem-solving happens!

    Just a few thoughts on the matter… as always, Mark- SPOT ON!

    Michael wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • A little more information on the heart-beat/frontal cortex connection would be interesting. Got more?

      Bronwen wrote on April 21st, 2011
  6. My partner has talked to me for years about improving my breathing techniques. He owns “The Science of Breath” and has tried to get me to read it many times.

    belinda wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • That is a very good read.

      I highly recommend it to everyone interested in improving their breathing technique.

      Have fun

      Peter wrote on September 30th, 2011
  7. I feel quite lightheaded when breathing like this………..
    Is this to be expected?

    nidalee wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Some people feel lightheaded because their bodies aren’t used to having so much oxygen to work with, so it’s sort of a rush. You’ll find you get more adapted to it as the belly breathing becomes more natural.

      Owly wrote on April 20th, 2011
      • After you breathe out, allow yourself to be still, no breathing, until your body demands that you breathe in. You should find you are content to be without breath for several seconds. That should sort it out. Ever watch your partner/child/cat/dog sleeping, worrying that they’re dead? That is at the end of the breathing out – complete rest.

        Bronwen wrote on April 21st, 2011
    • You are feeling lightheaded since you are hyperventilating. This is when you override your body’s natural regulation that balances oxygen demand with how deeply you breathe.

      Doing this for long periods of time isn’t wise and can cause a range of unpleasant effects.

      Tim wrote on April 20th, 2011
  8. Another benefit to breathing this way is that it alleviates “side stitches” or cramps you may have had while working out.

    Bruce wrote on April 20th, 2011
  9. This is huge. I have had patients with chronic stubborn thoracic spine pain that has been improved by re-educating them on how to breathe. Great post, Mark.

    Jared wrote on April 20th, 2011
  10. I picked up belly breathing while taking a few Tai Chi classes. Despite all of the “woo-woo” in the internal martial arts, they have a lot of good things to teach about breathing.

    Keith wrote on April 20th, 2011
  11. Yoga, yoga, yoga!!!

    I posted about conscious breathing in my Mindful Fitness series and how it can help workouts if anyone’s interested:

    Karen P. wrote on April 20th, 2011
  12. Any idea how this relates to yogic breathing?

    Nicky Spur wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • It is yogic breathing!

      Me thinks Mark’s recent foray into Yoga is paying dividends :-)

      Kelda wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • This feels very similar to what you get going with Ujai (sp??) breath – the slight constriction of the throat (Darth Vader breathing) that somehow forces you to belly breathe.

      In the 3-part yogic breath, although you’re breathing into your ribcage and upper chest (after your belly), your shoulders are still still, and, of course, you’re aiming for good posture. It’s still a slow, deep breathing.

      I credit yoga with the fact that when I took Mark’s deep breath test above, I was breathing into my belly.

      Jaime wrote on April 20th, 2011
  13. I do think it is important to note the benefits of incorporating some nose breathing into both proper breathing and everyday activities such as exercsise. Breathing through your nose will stimulate your brain and set off physiological reactions that mouth breathing along cannot. Just do it a test run yourself. Close your eyes and properly breathe one time through just your mouth, then do it again just through your nose. Feel the difference?!

    Great article Mark, thank you!

    Morgan wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Forgot to mention that I actually use both nose and mouth breath, sometimes in the same breath, finishing off my breath through my nose. I find this most beneficial when exercising, especially with moderate to intense exercise. With every day activities, yoga, meditation and sleeping, nose breathing seems to be best.

      Morgan wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • If I am not mistaking, nose breathing creates a type of vortex that also forces the air deeper into the lungs. Something mouth breathing doesn’t do.

      Dragonfly wrote on April 20th, 2011
      • The mouth and nose both lead to the same narrow tube, so this doesn’t sound very likely.

        Tim wrote on April 20th, 2011
        • When you breathe in through the nose your body adds nitric oxide to the mix, this doesn’t happen when you breathe in through the mouth. the buteyko method goes into details why this is important.

          Lee wrote on September 4th, 2012
  14. A needed post, Mark :) There’s nothing like a deep breath while riding out the stressful moments of the day.

    I don’t think EVERY breath is naturally meant to be a belly breath, though. Thoughts?

    Amanda wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • I don’t think belly breaths have to necessarily be deep breaths. I’ve never thought much about it, but when I did Mark’s “test” up above, only my belly hand moved, and I’ve been paying attention to how I breathe as I sit here reading the comments. I’m not taking abnormally deep breaths, but they’re all “belly.”

      Audry wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Amanda, I think that observation of children and animals tell us that belly-breathing is the norm, that we have corrupted with our rigid societal norms about the shape we should be. Men must have flat abs, women must not have any belly at all (heaven forbid, a sin!), we must all stand up like ramrods etcetera. I was taught to stand up straight, hold my stomach in and have ‘good posture’. Look at ‘primitive ‘tribes (modern-day groks) in the Amazon and Africa. They are lean and superbly well-muscled, but they never hold their bellies in.

      Bronwen wrote on April 21st, 2011
      • I think this is very interesting. Is it possible to breath well with flat hard abs? (not that I have that problem)

        This was the most interesting post for me, since I’m a chest breather, have no choir experience, and get panic attacks when I get sick which are always related to not being able to control my breath.

        John (aka Wish I Were Riding) wrote on June 4th, 2011
  15. wow. i think i just got an oxygen high.

    candice wrote on April 20th, 2011
  16. Whoop whoop! I started abdominal breathing last summer when I saw it mentioned somewhere! I was right! Whoop! Lol

    mlkrone wrote on April 20th, 2011
  17. extended exhalation also turns off the sympathetic nervous system and activates the parasympathetic. that’s why many sects of zen (if not all) teach with an emphasis on extended exhalation. nirvana is definitely found at the end of an extended exhale. yet another thing our ancestors knew without modern science…science is still cool too.

    daniel wrote on April 20th, 2011
  18. This reminds me of Michael Stember, a former olympian sprinter, at Primal Con! I vividly remember him explaining this exact same stuff to us while teaching us how to properly sprint.

    He claimed he could inhale for a few seconds and exhale for up to 2 minutes or more. I certainly believe him!

    Thanks Mark for blogging about this. It has refreshed my memory and I will engage in this exercise on a daily basis starting right… NOW!

    I am currently a chest breather but am on my way to becoming a belly breather.

    Grok on!

    Primal Toad wrote on April 20th, 2011
  19. Hmmm…I love this site and i love mark, but i gotta call b.s. on this one! Sure in the rare moments when you consciously take a deep breath you can decide how to go about it (meditation, playing a wind instrument, etc.) but 99.99..% of the breaths we take are controlled automatically and subconsciously. And for good reason! but you can’t consciously alter a process that occurs subconsciously, by definition!

    jt wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • It’s like sitting up straight and keeping your shoulders back, it feels awkward and forced at first, but it will become automatic with practice.

      Keith wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • You can certainly control something like breathing and be conscious of it most of the time. If you’ve ever been to therapy, you will realize that you can even get in touch with most of your subconscious mind. Also, if you practice conscious proper breathing for a while, you will begin to subconsciously breathe properly. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!

      Morgan Miller wrote on April 20th, 2011
      • Posture, subconscious mind, yes- the neural networks exist to do this. But not breathing (only voluntary breathing can be modified through practice). It’s neuro-anatomically impossible to change your automatic breathing by changing how you voluntarily breath – the two just aren’t connected :( Though it would be cool if we really could!

        tim wrote on April 20th, 2011
        • Yes, it might help people avoid altitude sickness, which is the only time when your body’s normal breathing/oxygen demand system breaks down.

          Other than that rare case, altering how much you breathe isn’t wise for more than short periods and anyway isn’t possible for very long.

          Tim wrote on April 20th, 2011
        • Then how did I do it? Before I started singing, I was a chest breather. I made myself breathe from the stomach whenever I remembered to so that I could easily do it without having to think too much about it while singing. It became so that with everyday breathing I did not have to think to breathe starting with the belly. A lot of it has to do with posture. When you are hunched over all day, people tend to chest breathe so that that becomes their normal breathing pattern. If you have better posture, it is the belly that is the norm. Think of children, most start of with wonderful posture and breathe from the belly – so where does chest breathing come from? It most definitely is something that can be changed over time.

          Ris wrote on April 20th, 2011
        • Guess what? It is cool. Because we can. We can do anything.

          Primal Toad wrote on April 21st, 2011
    • You are right in that its something we do subconsciously. That does not mean you are automatically doing it correctly.

      Do you believe you have good posture? I sit the same way every time subconsciously. However after attending Primal Con I am well aware that my posture for both walking and sitting is way off.

      I will be practicing deep breathing daily. In 30 days or so I will be subconsciously breathing CORRECTLY.

      Primal Toad wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • I suppose you don’t know anything about bad habits and how to correct them.

      Kevin wrote on April 4th, 2012
  20. Thankfully, singing in the choir as a boy taught me to always breath diaphragmatically. It’s weird when you first begin breathing properly, because your voice becomes a lot louder/ more powerful.

    Jeremy Priestner wrote on April 20th, 2011
  21. I’m with Jeremy on this one – as a choir girl growing up and now a musical theater actress, this has been my breathing style from a young age.

    Recently, my fantastic voice teacher ( introduced me to a more natural breathing style that it similar to belly breathing, but slightly different. Instead of focusing on forcing air down to expand your belly, allow the air to enter and fill your lower chest cavity in a natural way. It should result in a slight expansion of your lowest ribs. If you have a belt around your true waist, you should feel the natural expansion laterally instead of forward into your belly. For singers, this results in a more supported sound and less constriction of the vocal cords from trying to force air in.

    Lauren Mikov wrote on April 20th, 2011
  22. LOL You read Cracked articles too. XD Yay. I loved the article this came from. My mom used to yell at me for “breathing wrong” because I always breathed more with my abdominal muscles than with my chest. XD It just has always felt more right to me. :3

    Yvette wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • lol, I came to post the same thing. My uncle, who was also my band/chorus teacher, taught me how to breath with my diaphragm instead of my chest.

      Maddie wrote on April 21st, 2011
  23. I learned about proper breathing 9 years ago when I took Tai Chi lessons. I felt much better when belly breathing and now I do it unconsciously all of the time. In fact I have a harder time breathing into my chest. It IS possible to change how you breath. You just have to focus on it for a while. Since it is the truly natural way to breath, you are really just reminding your body how to do it properly.

    Lila wrote on April 20th, 2011
  24. Excellent article! Exactly the same breathing method I teach in my Tai Chi classes! We just talked about this today – no matter how hard I try, I cannot go back to chest breathing. I’ll have to point my students to this article. It’s nice to have a good reminder on how to do the basics in our life!

    Ben wrote on April 20th, 2011
  25. Well, it made me yawn about 10 times in 3 minutes.

    Edward wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Yawning is one of your body’s automatic ways of getting more oxygen. Due to mechanisms such as this, “under-breathing” just isn’t possible.

      (Unless you are living at an altitude your body isn’t used to – then you can get altitude sickness)

      Tim wrote on April 20th, 2011
  26. Great article. Cooincidentally, I restarted my morning ritual which includes deep abdominal breathing. I take 10 secs to inhale, ten to exhale and then hold at the bottom at ten, before restarting the cycle. This I do for ten mins.

    Darren Anthony.

    Darren wrote on April 20th, 2011
  27. Belly breather here! My Irish dance teacher’s nagging to “breathe into our ribs” so our chests don’t heave up and down and interrupt our line and posture has paid off :-)

    unchatenfrance wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • My first thought was: that’s just the BUILDING. The church is really the body. I agree that the “bodies” are having less and less impact. But, that made me think of the early church, meeting in homes, where there was no building. I think “our body” would have to START OVER to get another building…and that STARTING OVER would take us back to the basics…sharing the GOSPEL with our community.You really hit a thought provoker here!!! Thanks!!! wrote on April 28th, 2016
    • Hmm it appears like your site ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to the whole thing. Do you have any recommendations for rookie blog writers? I’d certainly appreciate it. wrote on August 7th, 2016
  28. I wish there’d be a blog about nose/mouth breathing.
    There is a gas released by the body inside the nose which is important for something, I forgot what….but mouth breathers lack this important gas.

    Dear Mark,

    some info on the difference between mouth vs. nose breathing, pleeeeease.
    Very humbly begging :-)

    Donnersberg wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Not sure what gas in the nose you are referring to, but for really good info on nose vs mouth breathing, check out the butyko breathing method.

      Valerie wrote on April 20th, 2011
      • I second the comment about Buyteko breathing. My son learned how to control his asthma with this technique. The “gas in the nose” you refer to is simply carbon dioxide. It’s CO2 that stimulates us to breathe, not O2. The constriction of airways that asthmatics suffer from is their bodies trying to hang onto CO2 (necessary to keep the pH of blood in the right range, for one thing). Mouth breathing blows off too much CO2 too fast. Hope I haven’t mangled this explanation too much. This says “for kids” but I found it to be an excellent explanation.

        Sanas wrote on April 21st, 2011
    • From “The Body Odd: ‘Mouth-breathing’ gross, harmful to your health:’

      What’s more, when you take in oxygen through your nose, it passes over the mucous membrane and into the sinuses, which produces nitric oxide, which your body needs for all the smooth muscles, like your heart and your blood vessels. So when you’re not breathing through your nose, your blood actually isn’t getting all the oxygen it needs to function properly.

      chipin wrote on April 21st, 2011
    • Yes, it is nitric oxide. Even hospitals have noted that nasal prongs for oxygen provide better results than face masks, because the body then provides the nitric oxide

      (nb not nitrous oxide which is laughing gas – that’s different)

      Lee wrote on September 4th, 2012
  29. I had never known before that I was a natural belly breather. For some reason, I always had that idea that men are belly breathers and women are chest breathers. Don’t ask me why:)
    Now that I did Mark’s test, I’m happy to know that was naturally breathing right.
    Thanks, Mark!

    chocolatechip69 wrote on April 20th, 2011
  30. Such great information, especially for any asthmatics! I learned this a year or so ago & realized a lot of the chronic tension I carried in my upper back and neck was from improper breathing.

    Valerie wrote on April 20th, 2011
  31. Related to breathing, I have always had a very hard time breathing through my nose. I keep hearing from everyone how breathing through your nose is way better (and/or breathing through your mouth is bad). But for whatever reason (nasal/sinus deformity, allergies, I dunno) I cannot get enough air in fast enough through my nose. It *sounds* bad when I try to breathe that way. When running, I try to do the “in through the nose, out through the mouth thing” but can only last 1/4-1/2 lap before I get dizzy and need to switch to mouth breathing.

    This has never really seemed like a huge deal to me. It seemed to me that as long as I’m breathing at all, things are good. But it *really* concerns my wife. As far as I can tell there’s really nothing you can do aside from surgery, and I really don’t have any desire to have elective surgery for this.

    Does anyone here have any insight? Is this a problem? Have any of you worked through this non-surgically?

    Kris wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Yes, I currently have a palatal expansion going on both my upper and my lower jaw.
      The first 2 months my sinus drained like MAD. I’ve had a stuffy nose my entire life, always on nasal sprays to reduce swelling so I could get some air in over night. When I switched to primal and ditched grains and pasteurized milk a lot of this swelling and mucous build up went away but my nose was still dry. This expansion triggered something within the sinus to release all this dried up mucous and my nose is now moist and easy to keep clean.
      As far as expansion goes, it’s slow…I have the longest roots ever which makes progress slower than normal. From pre-molar to premolar I’ve gained about 3 mm of expansion so far.

      I can tell my nasal bones are on a slow move because it hurts to have sun glasses on the nose bridge. I also can’t wear a baseball cap because of the slight pressure it causes on the head. It’s like everything is moving outward.
      Orthodontist said this takes about 2-3 years to get a 10 mm expansion to make a difference in the nose…I sure hope my bone is willing to stretch that far =P

      There are little rubber rings you can buy for the nose to keep the nostrils open further up in the nose. I bought 2 of those for $10,-. The best 10 bucks I’ve ever spent, no more nasalspray for the night.

      Type in Nasal Dilator in Google, bunch of different ones show up. Good Luck!

      Donnersberg wrote on April 21st, 2011
  32. Thank you so much for addressing this important subject.

    As a voice teacher(and fellow Grok) that has been teaching professionals and novice singers for over 17 years I’d like to debunk a few myths about breathing.

    1. “Belly Breathing” is a misnomer – the diaphragm is located directly below the lungs, no where near the intestines and stomach. The diaphragm drops down upon inhalation and draws air into the lungs, moves upwards to force air out of lungs upon exhalation. Many muscles are involved in this function – inner and outer-costals, back muscles, solar plexus, abdominal wall, even the pelvic floor.

    2.”Good Posture” has nothing to do with “standing straight” or erect. Posture is all about supporting the body so it functions with the least amount of work.

    The middle of our body is the pelvic bone and lumbar region of the spine-the thickest bones in our body – by design, we are built to support the majority of our body weight over those bones. I’d rather see a slight “slouch” in a student’s posture than a lifted clavicle…throws the body off balance.

    3.Inhalation should be silent. Any sound upon inhalation means there is tension in the larynx (voice box)

    I hate to sound like a know it all, but I find that there are many dance teachers, yoga teachers and voice teachers that have no understanding of the anatomy of our bodies and how they function. If you would like to learn more about how breathing and the rest of our body participates in respiration, I strongly suggest the following book.

    Barbara Conable is an expert in this subject.

    Gina Farrugia wrote on April 20th, 2011
  33. This is silly…I understand how people can get locked in shallow, restrictive breathing, and how that might have negative effects on ones well-being. But trying to consciously control the way you breathe is the most pointless, futile, and quite possibly damaging thing you could do to yourself…You breath what, 5000 times a day? Do you have any idea what an obsessive compulsive wreck you would become if you tried to monitor and control that? Trust me, i was big on yoga a couple years back and i bought into that whole “breath with your belly” nonsense. Every waking moment of the day I started questioning whether I was breathing properly. I’d try to control the way I breathed and I felt disconnected from myself in the worst way. And there’s no evidence that diaphragmatic breathing is preferable to thoracic breathing. Your manner of breathing will fluctuate with your posture, activity, and emotional state. Trying to engage in some superstitious “proper breathing” will just suck the joy out of your life. It’s like saying there’s a proper emotion you should be feeling at all time, or a proper tone you should have to your voice, or look on your face…If you feel like your breathing is out of whack, there is probably a reason. Perhaps you have way too much tension in your muscles from too much weight lifting. Work on the reason and hopefully you can feel natural in your breathing. Just don’t pay attention to it, your breath is supposed to be subconscious.

    Roberto wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Yes, Gena and Roberto are both right. Belly breathing IS a misnomer. Correct breathing involves both the diaphragm AND the lower chest (but not the upper part of the chest) and not the neck muscles. People who think they are using only the diaphragm to breathe are really fooling themselves. I have studied and taught anatomy (with cadavers) for many.years and many of these people do not know the anatomy or physiology of respiration . I hope I don’t sound too arrogant but I really cannot stand wrong information disseminated so widely.

      Henry Troyer wrote on August 19th, 2013
  34. Do you think “Grok” obsessed over how he breathed?

    Roberto wrote on April 20th, 2011
  35. Look up the “Buteyko method”…I don’t put much stock in it, because once again I think it is silly to try to tell my body how to breathe. But is interesting nonetheless, and contrary to all the “breath deeply” woo-woo out there. The theory behind it is that many ailments are caused from breathing TOO MUCH. The cure is to learn how to breathe MORE shallowly. A lot of people swear by it.

    Roberto wrote on April 20th, 2011
  36. “I say, why wait for our subconscious to kick in? Why not practice proper breathing at all times and reap the benefits without having to wait till stress accumulates and does it for us? Why not do some diaphragmatic, or belly breathing?”

    I looked up how many times a day we breathe…18,000 to 30,000 times, according to one source with pretty obvious math behind it. Yup, make sure you use Mark’s method all 30,000 times…Have fun with that…

    Roberto wrote on April 20th, 2011
  37. Mark,

    Great post. I had no idea most people practice inefficient breathing. I tried the belly breathing technique while lying down and definitely noticed a difference.


    Alykhan wrote on April 20th, 2011
  38. In college, I took a breathing class (theater student here!) from a prof who studied under Carl Stough. In it, we learned that the exhale was the important component; the inhale was automatic. You breathe out consciously (through the mouth, silently going “la la la” so as to concentrate on the breath), and then the inhale Just happens when you’ve expelled all the air. It’s a really effective technique.

    Tracy wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Second this. Coming from a classical singing perspective, if I need to find “big air” for a long phrase, then the key to doing it is to make sure I exhale properly first. If I just take a big gulp of air (even with proper diaphragm breathing learned over years and years), I’m not going to get enough air.

      Kaeferin wrote on April 21st, 2011
  39. It may be that we allow our diaphram muscles to get weak and so the chest muscles take over and this becomes the habit. Like weak abdominals lead to poor posture habits and over use of back muscles to compensate.Conciously strengthening the proper muscles brings us back to the correct form. I retrained myself to breath this way a few years ago to deal with stress and anxiety. I’ve found another very cool benefit of this. I can create a state of relaxation that is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. I read that a good way to strengthen the diaphram is to lay on your back and put a heavy book on your belly then breath, lifting the book. Me? We have a couple of very affectionate cats that love to lay on my stomach at every opportunity!

    joeprimal wrote on April 20th, 2011
  40. Alan Watts mentioned on MDA? I’m about to pass out from excitement

    Aidan wrote on April 20th, 2011
    • Same here. I just discovered Alan Watts about a week ago and have already gone through two books and listened to about ten hours worth of lectures.

      bluepelican wrote on April 25th, 2011

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