Every time I talk about breathing, anxiety or fatigue, I come across people who have been told by someone that deep breathing is good for you. Horrors. The comment is often followed by the ‘fact’ that this will get more oxygen to their brains. Which is not true.

And when I ask them to show me how they practice, it will inevitably involve large upper chest or large diaphragmatic movements, both of which will reinforce their adrenaline response. I feel sad that they have put so much effort, and so much trust into a lie.

It IS great – if you are powerwalking up a hill, running for the train, telling someone an exciting story or in any deeply emotional situation.
And I suppose it must have its place if you have a busy brain and full schedule, as it will make you stop for a moment, rethink what you are up to and slow down the fast shallow breathing that drives anxiety and fatigue.

But it is not the way to breathe normally.
When you do deep breathing at rest or doing light activities, you blow out too much carbon dioxide which makes you slightly alkaline; and if that is maintained it will reduce the blood supply to your brain and slow down the release of oxygen to the tissues that need it. I hope the people who teach deep breathing will study the physiology of breathing e.g. the Bohr effect. The following link is very simplistic but it is a good start before you tackle other more complicated sites. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_fmHT82mK0 – this shows how oxygen is easily released from the haemoglobin into the tissues when there is an increase in carbon dioxide, which makes your body become a bit more acidic. eg when you exercise. But the opposite happens if you keep deep breathing at rest. The curve shifts to the left, the nuts on the oxygen wheels tighten, and it is harder for your tissues and brain to get oxygen, as it stays in the blood so ultimately you feel lightheaded or anxious. ( or any other of the symptoms of hyperventilation)

I have found the best way to prove this is to ask someone’s permission to let me guide their breathing into a gentle nose- tummy pattern. And it still amazes me how quickly they are amazed at how calm they feel. It is so simple.
Well simple, but not easy for many people, as they are so used to being big breathers that it can feel very different to what their normal breathing felt like; so they need to buy into the concept and be prepared to practice.

As a physiotherapist I don’t  play with people’s breathing pattern, but aim to bring people back to how they were born to breathe. No deep breathing at rest, no breathing in and then holding it for 3 or 5 counts, no breathing in the nose and out the mouth. Ban them all!

Buy my book if you want to learn how to do normal breathing.

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