‘You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it’ is a phrase used often when enlightened with an ah-ha moment, or in my recent case, desperation!
Breathing is a natural, involuntary act that just ticks over without really having to focus on it until it takes all of your focus.
A couple of years ago for a variety of reasons my own breathing became something of a labour. Often times I was overwhelmed by the urge to yawn, take huge gulps of air, light-headedness and general misery. My doctor did all the usual tests from lung tests, x-rays and scans and came back with, “well Mr Hunter, your lungs are stronger than the average man your age and your heart function is fantastic – I’ve no idea what is wrong, let me refer you …” I ended the process there, frustrated by a few weeks of wasted time and after some further personal reading, research and clarity that came from talking to a close friend, I came to the realisation that indeed, anxiety was taking over my life and breathing.
Shortly after this time I attended the OS Pro workshop in Brisbane that proved a lovely progression from OS level 1. However, apart from spending time learning and meeting with Tim and Dan I also got to meet other participants and got to chatting with them. Now, as an introvert, this is a challenge to me haha. Idle chit-chat isn’t something I do easily.
One participant in particular (Chris Hall) had an infatuation with breathing and we casually chatted about it – he is a very easy chap to converse with. I didn’t however broach my personal problem until after the workshop via facebook messenger. I explained to Chris in brief my problems and some of the practice we use in the OS system but Chris was very open to discussing progressions that may help me.
We all love ‘simple’ and I threw myself into the simple solutions Chris suggested. Some of these were good daily practice and some, reactive to when my breathing problems arose.
Willing to share his information, Chris is guest blogging on here on FitStrong over the next few weeks.
I’ll not divulge what I practiced as I want you to read the work of Chris in this area… so without further ramblings , here is Part One.
Oh, and my breathing issues were vastly improved within a few weeks and now, not a problem
The Original Strength Resets are inspired by the movements that occur during the
development of infants: Head rocking, rolling on the floor, rocking back and forth while on all fours, crawling, and of course, breathing. Breathing is performed the way that we
naturally did at the beginning of our life – DIAPHRAGMATICALLY and THROUGH THE NOSE.
Both of these factors are enormously important, but there is a third distinctive feature of
the breathing of infants which is also extremely beneficial to mimic – A low rate of
breathing. Newborns breathe a remarkably small amount (even allowing for the fact that they are very small). Many parents have had the experience of wondering whether their sleeping baby is breathing at all.
This low level of breathing is enough to keep the baby well oxygenated, but with a higher
blood level of CO 2 than you would typically find in an adult. I would argue that just as we were designed to continue breathing diaphragmatically and nasally for our entire lives, we were also meant to continue breathing lightly as we did when we were infants.
When speaking of ‘light breathing’ I am referring to the total amount of air which is inhaled per minute – the combination of the breathing rate and the volume in each breath. Thus light breathing could conceivably be quite deep if the rate of breathing is reduced sufficiently. Alternatively it could mean taking in less air with each breath.
An adult requires 3-6 litres of air per minute at rest. This is enough to fully oxygenate the
blood while keeping a CO 2 level similar to that found in infants. Most of us breathe
substantially more than this. This increased breathing does not lead to any significant
increase in blood oxygenation, but causes a significant reduction in the CO 2 concentration in the blood.
Most people are surprised to hear that carbon dioxide can be desirable. It is only a waste
product in the sense that your body produces more of it than it needs. It is not a ‘bad’
substance. In fact, it is essential to the body in a multitude of ways.
In this book I will outline the ways that a reduced concentration of CO 2 damages our
health, and how returning to a biologically normal rate of breathing will reverse this
At this point many readers are probably shocked at the suggestion that it could be healthy to breath less. Perhaps a better way to put it would be that there is an optimal amount to breathe, and breathing more than this is detrimental to your health. If you are breathing more than this (as I would argue that most people in the developed world are) then reducing your breathing back to the optimal range will be beneficial.
I am simply challenging the idea that more is better.
There are many substances that are essential to life that are unhealthy or even deadly when taken to excess. Just as too much food or even too much water will damage your health, too much breathing can as well. If your intake of a substance is more than the optimal amount, then reducing that intake will positively affect your health. This is the case with our breathing.
Low C0 2 levels resulting from over breathing is actually a recognised medical condition
known as ‘hyperventilation syndrome’ (HVS). It is usually only diagnosed in severe cases
and even then it is regularly overlooked, but it is actually recognised by mainstream
Hyperventilation syndrome is classified as chronic or acute. In the chronic version the
patient suffers from the ill effects of a continuously elevated breathing rate. In the acute
version issues are temporarily triggered by short term increases in breathing (eg stress or exercise).
Many (including myself) argue that there is little distinction between the two: The person who has the acute version is breathing at an elevated level around the clock, but not enough to cause obvious symptoms. When their breathing rate increases (eg due to stress) it only requires a small increase to reach a level that causes symptoms. Similarly the person diagnosed with chronic HVS will be at a very high risk of acute episodes from any short term increase in breathing.
So what are the effects of hyperventilation? There is little point in giving an exhaustive list when this information is readily available online, but some of the common effects include:
Airway constriction – asthma, blocked nose, coughing, hiccoughs
Blood vessel constriction – high blood pressure, poor circulation, cold extremities.
Increased nervous stimulation – anxiety, panic attacks, restlessness, poor attention,
Digestive system issues – irritable bowel etc.
Immune issues – Immune system less effective against actual pathogens
(lowered immunity) yet highly responsive to harmless
events (increased allergies)
Increased muscle tension – cramps, knots, spasms etc.
Fatigue – especially the ‘tired but wired’ variety.
Most people in the developed world have some combination of these symptoms – even if
many of us rationalise this by saying ‘no more than most people’. The symptoms above are so common that as a society we have virtually accepted them as normal, but being common does not equate to being normal. In the OS community there are a great many things that we recognise as common but refuse to accept as normal:
- Mouth Breathing
- Chest breathing
- The inability to squat
- Loss of head control
- The inability to hip hinge
- Loss of balance as we age
In the same way, over breathing is common, but it is not normal, and neither are the
associated symptoms listed above. We were NOT made to be broken.
How do you know if you are breathing more than you should be?
There is a simple test that you can use to check which can be found here.
Next week: Some readers might find it hard to believe that whole societies could develop the habit of breathing too much. The next post explains how our modern lifestyle causes this to happen.
This article is intended as information only, and should not be viewed as medical advice. It is not written by a medical professional, and it takes no account of your own individual circumstances.