Lecture at The Arizona State University: Discover the Power of Your Breath

Anders Olsson was invited to the Arizona State University to give a guest lecture at the Stress Management Course. This recording is from the lecture held in October 2018. There is nothing new about the importance of breathing. Just a few minutes of oxygen deprivation is enough to destroy the brain’s ability to process incoming information forever. However, it isn´t just important THAT we breathe, but also HOW we breathe. If the way we breathe is just slightly out of balance, over time it will lead to severe negative consequences, since we breathe so much each and every day.

Anders shares his view of what happens in our body when we breathe and the six main reasons why Conscious Breathing is so important:

Listen to the lecture – Discover the Power of Your Breath

Hello everybody. Are you breathing? Let’s start with an exercise. It’s called eye focus and I would like you to really pay attention to what I’m saying. Preferably you should not make a mistake so please sit up on the chair erect, long, tall. Your head should be still during the whole exercise so just head pointing at me. Okay, are you ready? Preferably no mistakes. We start looking up, look down, head still, look to the left, look right, look up, look to the left, look right, look down, head still, look up, look to the left.

How are you breathing now? Anyone that changed your breathing or maybe stopped breathing please raise your hand. A few of you? Quite a few. The majority I would say. That’s how easy it is. Whenever we engage in something it affects our breathing so we can say that our breathing is affected by the activity we do, by our posture and also by our thoughts and emotions but the opposite is also true. The thing that we do they are so when we change our breathing we can also affect our posture, our activity, our thoughts, our emotions so if I’m stressed out my breathing is most likely up in the chest. It’s fast. Maybe my mouth is open.

I can also by just changing my breathing going from a slow and low breathing to a fast and shallow breathing take me from a relaxed state to a stressed state. It goes both ways. Our breathing is a direct reflection of our thoughts, emotions, activity and posture. By altering our breathing we can also affect our thoughts, emotions, activity and posture.

A good example of the importance of breathing is to compare it with the food and liquid. The amount of food we eat in a day is about one to two kilo, a couple of percent of our body weight. The amount of liquid we drink is slightly more but the amount of air that we take in every day, we take about 1000 breaths each hour. That’s about 25000 breaths in a single day. That’s about 10 times as much as the amount of food we eat. If you think about it we can live without food for weeks, without water for days but without breathing only for a few minutes.

We can say that breathing is the primary thing. If we ask our body what do you want? The body will say oxygen. Everything else is secondary like exercise, sleep, drinking, eating, love and even mobile phones. Maybe that’s a surprise to some of you but that’s actually the case. There’s nothing new about the fact that if we stop breathing we will die but why do we die if we stop breathing. This is not a trick question. Anyone will have a suggestion? We all know this. Why do we stop? Oxygen, exactly. That’s the answer.

We die because we get lack of oxygen but the next question then why is oxygen so vital. Why do we need oxygen? Why do we die if we don’t get oxygen? Anyone would have a suggestion? This is a little harder. They need oxygen to function. Yes, that’s very true and why do they need oxygen to function? Well, I will give you the answer. To produce energy.

Get more energy

Just like this city here on this image or in this room or your home we need energy. Our body has a huge need for energy. Every day our energy need is almost equivalent to our own body weight. That’s how much energy is produced in our body. We can mainly do it in two ways without oxygen which gives rise to 2 ATP. ATP is the energy currency of all living things.

Plants, animals and humans produce ATP in order to get work done to fight bacteria or to digest food or move a muscle or think a thought. We need ATP. That’s energy so it’s similar to money in our pockets. A lot of money can buy us a lot of things. Shortage of money is not so good. If we compare producing energy without oxygen to producing energy with oxygen we can see that there is an enormous difference. Up to 16 times more energy from the same amount of nutrients. From one glucose molecule without oxygen we only extract about five to six percent of the available energy while when oxygen is available up to 100%.

An example of an activity where we don’t have the ability to oxygenate our muscles that’s a hundred meters race. Our heart can’t pump blood fast enough. Our breathing rate is not fast enough in order to oxygenate these muscles so the characteristics of a hundred meters raised is that the endurance is very, very short and the recovery is very, very long. This has to do with shortage of energy, shortage of oxygen.

If we think about the city or this room or our home and we get lack of energy our fridge may not work, the lights may not work, the fans may not work which of course puts us in big trouble. The same with our body. It’s not either or. It’s not black or white. It’s not that either we have a lot of energy or we don’t have any energy. It’s a spectrum.

If we start to engage in poor breathing habits which will then deprive our body of the oxygen and if we start doing that over time if we don’t do anything about it would it be better or worse? I mean if I have a slightly slumped posture and then I don’t do anything about it and we meet again in 10 years will I have a very nice erect posture or will it have become worse? Most likely it’s worse right? The same goes with our breathing habits. If we start to engage in breathing habits usually a lot to a large extent associated with stress. If we have too much stress in our life and we breathe too much too shallowly, too much with our mouth open we will be better and better at breathing which will then take us down the road where we will be able to produce less and less energy in an efficient way which means then that we will get tired.

I want to go in to some of the details in the body. The mitochondria, that’s the place where the action is. That’s where we produce most of our energy. That’s the energy plants of our body. About 10% of the total energy you need in a day is produced by something called fermentation. There is no oxygen required for that process but the remaining 90% they should be done in the mitochondria. The mitochondria they are extremely powerful.

If you compare the mitochondria with the sun and you compare them gram to gram the mitochondria is so powerful it produces 10000 times more energy than the sun. Of course the sun is a little bit bigger so that’s why it produces more heat but still the mitochondria they are absolutely amazing. The cells with a large number of mitochondria those are of course the cells that have a big need for energy. That makes sense right?

If I’m for example a brain cell. The brain it only weighs about 1/15th part of our body weight but it takes care of about 20% of our total energy consumption. Our brain, our nerve cells have a lot of mitochondria in order to meet this huge energy need. The same with our heart, our muscles, liver, eyes, all these cells in these organs have several thousand mitochondria but which place in the body that have the most mitochondria. That’s a fertilized egg. It’s easy to understand when the sperm and the egg unite there is a huge demand for energy in order to proliferate and create a miracle basically. A fertilized egg have over a hundred thousand mitochondria.

What happens when we breathe?

Let’s move on and ask the question what actually happens in our body when we breathe? I’d like you to all take a big breath. Fill up your lungs. Come on. Let’s do that again. Great. You fill up your lungs and then does that mean that this big breath does it give more oxygen to our muscles, to our heart, to our brain? No, actually it doesn’t. Less is more.

If you asks the question why does mouth-to-mouth resuscitation work? If there is someone lying on the floor fainted maybe in an accident and we do the mouth-mouth breathing, the reason why that works is because the air we exhale contains oxygen otherwise it wouldn’t work. When you are sitting now, when you are at rest almost three quarters, 75% of the oxygen you inhale you exhale again. We only use a very small amount. Then it makes sense the big breath where we took in more oxygen has no effect, zero effect because we already have much more oxygen in our body than we need.

Maybe if we thought about why we breathe we may have heard that we breathe in order to inhale the life sustaining oxygen and exhale the poisonous horrible waste product carbon dioxide. How many have heard about carbon dioxide before in terms of our body not in terms of global warming? Okay, quite a few knows about carbon dioxide. Oxygen is something we take in from the outside when we inhale. Carbon dioxide is something that is produced in our body and leave our body when we exhale. We may think that oxygen is the good thing and carbon dioxide is the horrible thing but that is not correct. That is actually as far away from the truth as you can come. If we take a step back and think about it if we have a car does it run better if it gets more fuel. I’m going at the same speed but then I decide oh, I want to give my car a little bit more fuel. Does it run better? No, it doesn’t. It stops both if it gets too much or too little fuel. It’s all about balance.

Water, most of us know that we contain about 70%, 60% water and it’s important to drink water but if I drink 10 liters per day of course it’s too much. We need to have an intake of water that matches our needs. The same with our breathing it should match our need whether we are sitting in the sofa or if we’re out running or doing other activities. In every single moment our breath should match our body’s needs.

The problem with impaired breathing is that we get too much oxygen just like this big breath where we exaggerate a little bit. We get too much oxygen and too little carbon dioxide because if we take a big breath in we over breathe. We can also call it hyperventilation, a low grade form of hyperventilation. When we take in too much air we also blow out when we exhale the same amount of air. That means that too much carbon dioxide leaves our body. Carbon dioxide is actually really, really important.

Follow your breath

Let’s do another exercise. It’s called follow your breath. I’d like you all to stand up. Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. Just follow your breath. We start with adapting a slightly slumped posture. One hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach and just pay attention to your breathing. Is it easier or harder to breathe when you adapt the slumped posture? Most people find that it’s a bit harder to breathe that the breath will be more shallow up in our chest. While we’re down here in this slumped posture try to think positive. It’s a beautiful day, I’m in love, whatever. It’s not that easy either is it? Something is not right here when we have this slumped posture

Let’s do the opposite. We still have one hand on the chest and one hand on the stomach and pay attention to your breathing. Notice if it’s easier to breathe down into your stomach compared to when you have a slumped posture. You stand up straight and tall. When you’re in this position also if you try to think negative it’s not that easy either. Ah life sucks. It’s much easier to think like that when you have this posture so everything is connected our thoughts, our emotions, our breathing and our physical body.

Let’s continue this exercise but we’ll sit down. You can all sit down. Still one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. You can close your eyes if you want to and just listen to me and answer it to yourself. Pay attention to your breathing. Are you breathing fast or slow? Do you breathe high up in your chest or down into your stomach? Is your breathing quiet or do you make sounds? Do you get relaxed when you pay attention to your breathing or do you get a bit stressed out? Do you breathe through your nose or through your mouth?

You can open your eyes. Everyone that feels more relaxed after this little breathing exercise compared to before please raise your hand. I would say the majority and everyone that feels more stressed than before please raise your hand. A couple and that’s actually how easy it can be. If we’re stressed out oh, what am I going to do? Our breathing usually reflects that stress. Just by turning to your breath take a few relaxed breaths will make you more present, more able to deal with that stress.

For you that felt a bit more stressed out that could mean that you would benefit a lot from improving your breathing habits because maybe you haven’t done that much in the past. Maybe you haven’t really paid attention to your breathing. When you start doing it you may want to slow it down. You may think okay, I should breathe down into my stomach and we enter into a performance state which may then makes us a little bit more stressed out but it usually it gets easier if you just practice a few times.

Seven Good Habits of Conscious Breathing

Conscious Breathing is a concept that I formed. In this method we work with seven good habits, the seven habits of Conscious Breathing. The first one is our nose. Good breathing starts in our nose. Our nose is to breathe with. Our mouth is to eat with and talk with. If we look at this picture, one of my favorite pictures maybe it says a bit more about me than about the picture itself but you can see that the area of the nose is very large. If our nose is just to cultivate boogers in probably the evolution has totally lost it here, occupying this big space in the cranium where we have so many vital functions like eyes and ears and brain means that our nose is very important. I think the latter. Our nose is probably the most underestimated organ we have.

The part that we can see and touch and feel that’s a small part. The big part is in here within the cranium. What the nose does is it prepares the air we inhale for the lungs. We talked about earlier 10 to 20 kilos per day, 25000 breaths of air that we take in. If you were to choose unless you’re a vegan or vegetarian you have to choose between a raw chicken or a cooked chicken I’m sure most of us would choose the cooked chicken. If we were to ask your lungs how would you prefer the air that we inhale? Would you like to have it prepared or would you like to have it raw? I’m sure the lungs would answer that it’d like to have the air prepared. That’s what happens in the nose.

Here the air is warmed and moistened. Also bacteria is filtered out. When we inhale through the mouth we then take in a more raw kind of air that is cold and dry and full of bacteria which is of course a stress for our lungs. If we consider the fact that we inhale about 100 billion particles in a single day, even more if we live in a big polluted city or if we spend most of our time indoors the question is then if we filter this air or if it goes down to our lungs unfiltered. Good breathing starts in the nose. If you get nothing else from this lecture then that is important to breathe through the nose. That’s fine. It’s a really good start but it doesn’t stop there. Remember we were talking about seven habits but the nose is where good breathing starts.

The second is a low breathing using our diaphragm. How many knows about the diaphragm? Have you heard about it? That’s interesting. You see it here. This is a major important muscle. Everyone knows about the heart I guess and actually it is the fact that our heart and our diaphragm those are the two muscles that doesn’t rest. The only two muscles in our whole body that never rests. They’re constantly active. The heart to pump blood and the diaphragm to help us move air in and out through the lungs.

Our diaphragm is supposed to do 70% to 80% of the muscle work needed to move the air in and out. It’s extremely efficient at what it does but when we are not breathing low instead of breathing high up in our chest that’s an inefficient way of moving the air in and out. Meaning that those 25000 breaths per day consumes more energy. Again we get back to energy. No wonder we are tired if we have poor breathing habits. It works like this. The diaphragm, you can touch it, feel it. It starts here in the sternum and attached to the six lowest ribs and all the way back to the spine.

When we inhale it goes down and flattens out, expands in all directions forward, backwards and to the sides. When we have a shallow breathing we also tend to not get the air to circulate in our lungs. If we were to choose between drinking water from a creek where the water is flowing or from a pond where the water is standing still. Anyone that goes for the creek water please raise your hand. Most of us will do that.

That’s the same way with the lungs that happens like in the pond. The pond where the water stands still really gives rise to an environment where there will be a risk for bacterial overgrowth. The same is in our lungs. When we engage in this shallow breathing the air is not circulating so we may have more bacteria, more particles getting trapped and over time they lead to inflammation. Over time they could lead to chronic inflammation.

This is how we would like the air to circulate in all areas of the lungs. It’s basically following the principle if you don’t use it you lose it. The same goes with our nasal cavities that we also want the air to circulate here in the sinuses otherwise we may end up with a blocked nose, stuffy nose, sinus infections. The same principle as in the lungs. If the air doesn’t circulate particles, bacteria get trapped.

The remaining five habits I will just mention them briefly. When we are stressed out we tend to breathe faster so basically Conscious Breathing is not rocket science. It’s just simple knowledge that everyone can understand. We basically do the opposite to when we are stressed out. When we are stressed out and breathing fast we do the opposite we slow down our breathing. I’m sure you can relate to that. Similar to the exercise we just did we made when we started to pay attention to our breathing to slow down our breathing and then actually we oxygenate our brain better and get more relaxed.

Fourth principle is that the breath should be small in contradiction to the big breath we took before because the big breath just takes in more oxygen that we don’t need and it just blows off more carbon dioxide that we desperately do need. Further we should have an erect posture compared to the slumped posture where we force our breath high up in the chest.

Principle number six is rhythmic. If you after this lecture start to pay attention to your breathing you may find that when you concentrate, studying, watching TV, playing computer games, sending an email, writing a text message that you hold your breath. That’s extremely common in today’s society. The mechanism, the evolutionary mechanism about that it’s oh, there is a tiger, to wake up our body. We tend to do that a little bit too much today. We don’t have many tigers around but we have so many stimuli that it makes us engaged in this breathing pattern where we stop breathing. Of course if we stop breathing then we start to lower the oxygenation of our muscles, our brain.

The final principle is that your breathing should be quiet. What do I mean by that? Whenever we do a sound if we talk we move air in and out of our lungs. Talk is fine. That’s definitely not forbidden but all the other sounds that we make that at (sound) or at night we snore that means that we are moving air in and out. That’s not a very efficient breath. On the contrary it’s very inefficient meaning that it’s like driving in a car with the parking brake slightly engaged. Instead of unlocking the parking brake which is of course the smartest thing to do we tend to push harder on the gas pedal. With our breath instead of understanding why is it narrow here in my throat giving rise to different types of sounds and adjusting and correcting that we tend to then breathe faster. If we have a tendency to make a lot of sound there is a risk that we have a narrow passage here. There is a risk that we engage in faster breathing which over time will lead to more stress, more inner stress.

Why am I here? Why am I so obsessed about breathing?

I’ve been doing this now for about 10 years. I still think it’s fascinating. I still consider myself as a rookie, as a beginner in this fascinating area. I tend to think of myself as a breathing nerd. One reason is because I’ve always had a racing mind. I tend to think of myself as born in turbo mode. My wristwatch, stopwatch was my best friend or rather my worst enemy. I tend to time everything. I should set records. I should always perform, always being the best. I time when I ate breakfast, when I bike to school. I had one mile biking. That’s not a long ride but I had like six stop times. If I couldn’t set a record from start to finish I could always set the record between stop time two and four. I was always in this racing mind.

One example was when I was 13. I decided I should be strong so I decided to do push-ups and sit-ups. The record for one month was 25000 push-ups and 50000 sit-ups. I could do 50 push-ups in 35 seconds just to explain how much I was up in my head all the time. It was all about performance. What I can realize today when looking back was that I was basically seeking the love of my father, his attention. Whenever I did something when I was strong then he acknowledged me. That’s at least how I interpreted it. If I perform then maybe I’m worthy of love.

Further those fear and worry have also been close companions. They usually go hand in hand with stress. If there is a lot of stress, a lot of racing mind usually we also have fear and worry. One of my biggest fear was public speaking. I hated it like the plague. There was something that I would never ever do. Now it’s more or less my occupation. I also tend to be easy going, laughing but beneath that I used to have a short fuse. I could be very angry. If you don’t believe me you can always ask my kids. I also had very poor self-confidence.

One example of that is when I went to class. I saw this girl. I fell in love with her and for six years. I was in love with her and then in sixth grade she asked me if we should be together but I thought no, she can’t mean me. I was really in love with her but I turned her down because my self-confidence was so poor. Anyway I had done a lot of things in order to unlock the turbo, try to find other gears to try to move in life at a slower pace. Viktor Frankl, he survived three years in concentration camp. He is the author of Man’s Search for Meaning. I think he puts it nicely when he says that between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. That’s what conscious breath have meant to me that I’m able to get a millisecond or half a second or whatever so that I realized that I’m not a slave to the programs that was installed in me when I was a kid when I grew up. That I don’t have to be angry. I don’t have to be worried. I don’t have to be afraid. I’m far less stressed today. I’m much braver, all these things.

When I say that the conscious breath have helped me to open up a window of opportunity to react differently to incoming stimuli is I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I’m saying that it has actually changed my life. How I work and operate if I come across something that I like that is good I want to spread it. Since I started teaching Conscious Breathing I’ve helped tens of thousands of people. It’s amazing how easy it could be actually turning to our breath, applying the good habits and you can reap a lot of the benefits more energy and calmer mind and so forth.

That was one reason why I’m so obsessed with breathing. The second reason was that I’ve helped others. The third reason is linked to this question. Have your doctor in any way, shape or form ever asked you about your breathing habits? Please raise your hands anyone that have that experience. One, two, great, three, awesome. This kind of confirms the statistics I have here because I’ve asked this question to thousands of people. 98% to 9%9 says no.

What I realized it is that a lot of people that come to my courses, to my clinic, to my workshops they may have had asthma for 30 years. They have low energy or they have a number of health issues and they realize when they start to improve their breathing that they would have wanted to have that advice maybe 20, 30 years ago but the medical profession, I’m sorry to say but their knowledge about breathing, it’s not that big. This is another reason why I really want to spread Conscious Breathing because we all need this simple knowledge. This is something that we all can do improve our breathing.

Why Conscious Breathing?

Six important reasons. We’ve already talked about energy. If we are tired then we can go to our breathing. We don’t necessarily need to take an energy drink, a coke or a coffee. We can also turn to our breathing to get more energy.

Better sleep

A study was done on eight healthy individuals with no sleep problems. They blocked their nose so that they could only breathe through their mouth while sleeping. What happens was that all participants started to snore the first night. One person developed sleep apnea which means you hold your breath while sleeping which is not particularly good for our body oxygenation.

Sleep is very important for us. Maybe you have heard the expression practice makes perfect. You study or you learn to bike or something and you repeat it. You repeat it and then you get good at it but actually there is one component missing. You do not only need to do practice you also need to sleep. Studies show that if you do a practice, you play the piano and then you can’t really get it. Then you get a night’s sleep and then you wake up in the morning then you can play just like that. Maybe some of you have an experience like that.

Sleep is extremely important. It’s not only about the number of hours in bed. It’s also about the quality of sleep. The reason why we need to sleep, a major reason is because the brain is reorganizing. For example if you learn something in the morning and you measure the brain activity in the night. When you are examined about what you have been taught the short-term memory will be active but if you do the same thing next morning after a night of sleep that memory had moved to the long-term memory. You can think of sleep as a way for the brain to reorganize like defragmentation of the hard drive.

The short-term memory is the USB drive and the long-term memory is the big huge hard drive. If we don’t get the sleep we need we kind of are not able to put things in order in the different boxes that we have in the brain being able to see patterns and see the bigger picture. We will always be running uphill. Breathing and sleep is really closely related.

A study I just participated in at Stanford where it was a three week study. For ten days we blocked our nose like on the picture here so we could only breathe through our mouth. Actually I didn’t only look stupid after a few days I also started to feel stupid. I made a lot of stupid mistakes but now we’re talking about sleep and one thing we did in this study was to record the sound we made while sleeping. Here is the first four nights.

The more yellow and bluish greenish the more snore sound. These are the four first nights then night five to eight and the remaining two nights. Guess what happened when we switched? We took off the thing that blocked our nose and taped our mouth so that we could only breathe through our nose. On average here with the blocked nose I snored two hours 45 minutes. This is how it looked like with taped mouth. The complete opposite. I snored on average 10 minutes per night.

You can imagine the energy I felt in the morning waking up after sleeping like this compared to after sleeping with my nose blocked. I was really drained of energy when we did the 10 days of blocked nose. This is interesting on night number nine in the taped mouth. I suddenly got up to a score of 11. The two nights before I had one and one and the night 10 I had also one. The reason why I had suddenly went up to 11 which is quite a big increase percentage-wise from one, one to 11 to one. It was because we ate the same things. We had the same breakfast, same lunch and same dinner every day. I mean the thing we ate during the first 10 days we repeated the same eating habits the following 10 days.

What happened when I started to get tired when I had my nose blocked I got more cravings. The last four days of blocked nose I had ice cream. I had chocolate. I had beer. I had pizza. One of the nights I repeated that. After the pizza, after the beer and the chocolate and ice cream this is the reason why I had 11 in the snore score. Just to show that relationship it’s quite interesting. It makes sense. We sleep poorly. We get low energy and then we need the fast energy like the junk food. It really goes hand in hand. I’m sure we can all relate to that if we had a poor night’s sleep it is easier to have those cravings.

This woman is Katarina. She is 50 years old. For 30 years she have had really poor sleep, waking up six to eight times per night. After she started to tape her mouth at night it was like turning a hand. She says that during the 30 days of the mouth taping I have slept more full nights than I’ve done in 30 years combined. That’s quite amazing and of course she’s got a new life.

Taped Mouth Trial

Now it’s time for us then to try the taped mouth. You have this. This is the sleep tape. You have it on the side on the outer rows. Jonas is giving out the tape so you should be able to try it now. Get the experience. They are pre-cut. You just do like this. It’s very easy and you just put it over your mouth like this. It is voluntary so you don’t have to do it if you absolutely don’t want to but I can strongly recommend it you will not die. This is just how you do it. You apply the tape over your mouth. You can also divide it in two and apply from your nose to your chin. If you want to take it off now please be gentle especially if you have sore lips. This is something that I can really recommend because if we think about it we sleep about eight hours per night. That’s about a third of our life.

With our mouth closed we can have our breathing working for us instead of working against us. Some people that try it for one night and say well, there was no difference. I didn’t sleep any better than usual. This is nothing for me. I have my mouth closed period but I think that’s similar to going to the gym and go there once and say well, I’m not fitter or I don’t have more endurance or I’m not stronger. We all know that we have to go there more than once. The same goes for the tape.

If you decide to try it I strongly advise at least one week preferably four weeks before you start to evaluate. Just as we talked about earlier our breath is a reflection of the state we’re in. Also our sleep is a reflection of whether we are more stressed out right now or whether we are in a calmer state. Even if we have good sleep one night we may not have the best sleep the next night. Maybe some of you even start to feel now that you get calmer just by applying the tape and even if you already had your mouth closed you may still feel a difference.

Better sports performance

The next reason why you should think over if you should apply Conscious Breathing is better sports performance. This woman Ulrika, she exercises about six to eight times per week so she’s really fit but when she started to do nasal breathing while exercising something happened. She didn’t change anything at all but within six weeks she could lower the time it took her to run 10 kilometers from 55 minutes to 45 minutes. That’s quite an achievement.

Just to inspire people to try I ran a half marathon a few years ago with duct tape over my mouth. I applied it all the way around so that no one should say that I was cheating if it’s possible to cheat mouth taping while running. Anyway I got a lot of questions. I think quite a lot of people got inspired to start thinking over about their breathing habits because if we think about it we can’t really achieve to the best of our ability if our breathing habits are impaired. Most athletes don’t have a clue about how they are breathing on the training arena or outside the training arena. For most athletes there is a huge potential, untapped potential in increasing their performance.

A study I did at the CrossFit gym with 10 athletes, they did one set of exercises while breathing normally and then a while later they did it with their mouth taped. We wanted to see if there was a difference in their performance. Actually I was a bit shocked because the way they were breathing with normal breathing was like this. I did not expect them to be able to perform very well with their mouth taped but they were actually able to perform at almost the same level. You see the activity they did and on average it took about 25 to 30 minutes to do all these activities.

They were really exhausted. On the scale from 1 to 20 on average they were at level 19. They almost gave everything they had. Helen, that’s a specific CrossFit exercise where you jog, you do kettlebell and you do pull ups. As you can see the difference is almost none. Some were a little bit better. Some were a little bit worse but they could exert themselves at almost the same level with their mouth taped.

We are no horses of course but still it’s interesting. A horse can run twice as fast as Usain Bolt, weighs 500 kilos, a lot of beautiful muscles and it only breathes through the nose and still that’s enough to oxygenate the body. We don’t have to breathe like that in order to get oxygen to our body. Less is more and when we do like this we tend to go well very shallowly and it’s very inefficient. If you Google I have several articles on the Conscious Breathing website but there are also other articles about the benefits of nasal breathing while doing physical activity.

This guy had a Swedish record in Triathlon Iron Man 8 hours 15 minutes. He’s extremely fit and when we did another study a few years earlier when he was biking at the same level, the same exertion. It was on a bike with 230 and we compared mouth to nose his pulse was 10% lower. That’s extremely much for such a fit guy. The benefit was that afterwards he felt extremely relaxed and harmonious after the nasal breathing.

Improve digestion

Reason number four is to improve digestion. You know about pH. pH is a way to measure the environment. If we have an acidic lake we may put calcium in the lake because the acidic lake makes the fish die and the algae to thrive. We want to restore the balance so we restore the pH. In our body we have of course a pH balance. With every breath we regulate the pH. Everything that lowers the pH that is acidic increases the breathing because the carbon dioxide that is produced in our body controls the breathing through the pH.

When carbon dioxide is produced it lowers the pH. It lowers the pH to the point where the breathing center in our brain stem realize okay, now it’s time to inhale. We inhale and then on the exhale we exhale the carbon dioxide which then alters the pH. The exhalation rises the pH again and a new breathing cycle is started. With every breathing cycle pH is altered up and down up and down.

The relationship with sugar or junk food maybe is the better example. Junk food or sugar lowers pH which then means that oh the body says we have too low pH. We need to restore the pH balance so the body starts to breathe more in order to raise pH to blow off more carbon dioxide. Can you see the point in the relationship and that carbon dioxide is very important? The junk food basically leads to over breathing. Think about it as a spectrum. It doesn’t matter if I take a Coca-Cola or two or five or ten but over time it will make a difference.

If you just look at pH of different drinks a Coca-Cola has a pH of two and a half. That’s really, really acidic. Just talking about our drinking habits none of us would think about giving our plants alcohol or our dog a soda. We give them water and that’s mainly our need as well. It’s water. We consist of the 60% to 70% water not coffee, not energy drinks.

Anyway another reason why it’s good to engage in conscious breathing habits is because of our weight. Just as we talked about before we can produce energy in mainly two ways with oxygen or without oxygen. We mainly use two types of fuels. We use sugar and we use fat. Sugar can be converted to energy without oxygen but fat needs oxygen to be burned. Fat can only be burned in the mitochondria and the mitochondria only works with oxygen. If we go around and have a slight form of hyperventilation we over breathe a little bit and thereby deprive our body of oxygen. We shut the door slightly to our fat reserves.

If any one of us want to lose weight but we don’t pay attention to our breathing habits it’s kind of an uphill battle. We can get there but it’s not the optimum. Several studies have shown that if people have a tendency to over breathe and they may lose the weight they will get it back again. They will like go like a yo-yo up and down but I haven’t come across any diet yet that considers breathing which is kind of interesting given this fact

Calm down a racing mind

Reason number five to calm down a racing mind. This is the biggest benefit of Conscious Breathing. Just look at this picture. This is normal breathing, normal brain activity. This is after one minute of hyperventilation. The activity in the brain goes down a lot and again we can trace that back to carbon dioxide. Lower levels of carbon dioxide, a lowered carbon dioxide pressure in our body will make the smooth muscle surrounding the blood vessels to constrict. When they constrict well then we will get less blood to the brain and thereby we will oxygenate the brain less giving rise to a picture like this. Of course the brain can’t go on for that forever so the body starts to adapt but we know if this is how the body operates and want to operate if it has to adapt and try to find ways. This is never as efficient.

Reduce fear and worry

When we don’t oxygenate our brain enough we start to make mistakes. Also like in the reason number six we get more irritable, we get angry, we get more worried, afraid. One reason why it is so interesting with breathing is if you come to the hospital and you have a panic attack I mean if you are worried, afraid and the more worried afraid you are the closer you get to a panic attack. Panic attack is really a severe state of anxiety.

What you get then when you come to the hospital it’s a bag to breathe in and out through. Bag breathing works because of carbon dioxide because the amount of carbon dioxide that we exhale is hundred times more than what we inhale. When we put a bag in front of our face preferably with a little distance so that we don’t deprive our body of oxygen and faint. When we do that we re-inhale some of the carbon dioxide that we just exhaled. I have a panic attack meaning that I have a low CO2 pressure meaning that the blood vessels are a bit constricted meaning that I don’t get enough blood to my brain meaning that my brain is in a bit of a panic state. I breathe in this bag and I start to increase the CO2 pressure and thereby the smooth muscles relax and can send blood and oxygen to the brain and we relax.

The same if you ask a flight attendant. If someone comes to the airport, to the plane and they are worried. They are afraid of flying. They will give them a bag to breathe in and out through to calm down which tells us a lot about the relationship between stress, worry, fear and poor breathing and the lowered CO2 pressure.

With that I would like to wish you to breathe well and be well. Thank you for listening.

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About the author

Anders Olsson is a lecturer, teacher and founder of the Conscious Breathing concept and the author of Conscious Breathing. After living most of his life with a ”hurricane of thoughts” bouncing back and forth in is head, Anders was fortunate enough to come across tools that have helped him relax and find his inner calm. The most powerful of these tools has undoubtedly been to improve his breathing habits, which made Anders decide to become the worlds most prominent expert in breathing. This is now more than 10 years ago and since then he has helped tens of thousands of people to a better health and improved quality of life.

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