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The Breathing Gurus Have Got It Wrong! Four Common Myths About Breathing
It seems like every time you read a magazine or website about a health issue lately, some alternative health guru is sharing breathing instructions. They can range from completely ridiculous to simply misinformed. Many breathing tips are a prime example of misleading information that “sounds” right and is repeated so many times that it takes on the ring of truth. This is how myths are formed.
The only thing that is true about common breathing beliefs is that breathing is indeed a wonderful healing tool – when done naturally and correctly. So it’s especially sad that so much of what seems like sound advice can often do more harm than good. Here are four of the most common misconceptions about breathing:
“Deep breathing exercises are useful” Deep breathing is probably the most popular piece of advice to take on this matter. Unfortunately, describing these exercises only leads to hyperventilation, not health improvement. Symptoms include dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion and nausea. And imagine that this is the most common advice for panic attacks!
“We’re not getting enough oxygen” Shallow breathing, high in the chest, is said to rob us of oxygen. But luckily we get more than enough oxygen. In fact, we are more often oxygenated and what we really need is to slow down and get more carbon dioxide!
By applying this principle to the treatment of asthma, users of the Buteyko method have convincingly disproved the myth of oxygen deficiency. Slow breathing to lower high blood pressure works on a similar basis that has been clinically proven.
“Inhale to the count of 4, pause for 2 seconds, then exhale… (and all similar)” Typical breathing instructions include some variation of the counting procedure. Counting breaths is reversed! Any benefit from healthy breathing requires complete relaxation, and it is impossible to relax while counting. The same goes for following any type of external timer.
“You have to breathe with your stomach” This is usually accompanied by the explanation that babies naturally breathe with their stomachs and that somewhere along the way we were corrupted by chest breathing. It’s one of those things that “feels” so convincing. Until you really think about it. The reason we no longer breathe like babies is because we are adults!
Most activities require chest breathing, and the only time belly breathing is appropriate is in a state of deep relaxation. Belly breathing can actually be very beneficial, but it naturally comes from healthy and natural breathing.
Much more absurdity can easily be found in breathing, such as breathing in through one nostril and out the other, but these are absurdities that need no comment. They are mostly associated with excessive complexity.
Complex or exotic breathing techniques can be challenging for yoga or meditation, but not suitable for most purposes. They can be especially disturbing to the uninitiated, who would benefit most from a simple and rational breathing method.
Easy and healthy breathing comes naturally, despite what some say. Using the simple, natural breathing technique described below for 15 minutes a day of relaxation has been clinically proven to provide a wide range of important health benefits.
Natural, healthy breathing is slow and gentle. Simple does it!
“Deep breathing” is a dangerous and misleading description that usually does more harm than good. A better way to visualize healthy breathing is “slow and gentle.” You should forget about getting more oxygen that you don’t need at rest and focus on breathing more slowly. Slow breathing is the key to health. For slow breathing, 10 breaths per minute is the absolute maximum, and with practice you should be able to get to 6 breaths per minute.
Another key word is “gently”. Gentle breathing helps to slow down, relax and also prevent hyperventilation.
Timing is crucial – but don’t count on it!
Your breathing pattern is as important as rate. Exhalation should be approximately twice as long as inhalation. A short pause of a second or two between phases is natural. But there is no need to read or follow the timer! It is simply not possible to relax deeply by counting or focusing on the time. Relaxation is far more important than precise timing.
Plus, your internal clock can easily point it close enough and keep you in the right cycle. Just enter the formula: inhale, pause, exhale twice as long as you inhale. It’s easy!
The emphasis is obviously on exhalation. As you exhale, relax into it completely and let the air pressure push you out instead of using muscle power. If you do it right, you should feel an incredible release of tension in your chest. It opens blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.
Belly breathing is completely natural
Belly breathing is very healthy for relaxation, but it follows naturally as a result of slow and gentle breathing. For some people, it comes quickly and easily; others take longer. But to try to inculcate it immediately is to put the cart before the horse. This will only disrupt the relaxation you need to benefit from this type of breathing.
So don’t worry about belly breathing. Follow my easy breathing method for 15 minutes a day and you’ll be breathing like a baby again before you even know it. You’ll also discover lower blood pressure, lower stress and anxiety levels, improved sleep, improved mood, and any number of other health benefits that come from the power of your breath.
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