Often I hear people say, I know how to breathe correctly and have been doing so my entire life. I then ask a few carefully selected questions, which reveal the myths they've learned about breathing. Most people are surprised to learn the truth and wonder how these breathing myths came about. Let's take a look at the four biggest breathing myths.
Myth #1: Breathing is regulated by the need for oxygen.
Most folks learned this as early as middle school or certainly by high school. We're taught we breathe to bring oxygen in and move carbon dioxide out. We breathe as often as we do to meet the body's continuous need for oxygen. This is only partially true.
Truth #1: We breathe as often as we do to get rid of carbon dioxide that has built up in the lungs. For most people, we only need to breathe now and again to meet the oxygen demand of the body. This is as true for couch potatoes as it is for elite athletes.
Most have plenty of oxygen in their body and while at rest only need to breathe a couple of times per minute to replenish what is used up. I prove this to clients during their breath training. I have them monitor an oximeter, a device that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood, while holding their breathe. For 5 minutes, they are only allowed to take one breathe when needed and then return to the breathe hold.
Seldom is there any drop in the oximeter readings and never do they become hypoxic (too little oxygen). This breathe hold test reduces their respiration rate to about 2 or 3 times per minute. Most normally breath 10-20 times per minute. And ... there is no change in their blood oxygen levels.
We breathe as often as we do to get rid of excess carbon dioxide. Our breathing is much more sensitive to elevated carbon dioxide levels than to a need for oxygen.
Myth #2: Carbon Dioxide is a waste gas - we must get rid of it.
Once again our high school biology teach probably planted this notion in our heads. My biology teacher loved vintage cars and would describe carbon dioxide as the "exhaust" of the human engine. Once again, this myth is only partially correct.
Truth #2: Carbon dioxide is not a waste gas. It is essential to life. We would perish in a matter of minutes without it. The more we keep in our body, the better.
Carbon dioxide performs four vital functions inside the body including:
Myth #3: Deep breathing loads the body with oxygen - the more the better.
I'm not sure exactly where this myth originated but it's a widely held belief. We've been told the bigger the breathe and the more we breathe, the more oxygen enters the body. I hear this myth a lot from the athletes I work with.
Truth #3: For most, we could not get more oxygen into our body if we had to. Once again, the oximeter is an important tool in proving this. The oximeter shows most people, chronic lung disease not withstanding, have 96% - 98% of the maximum oxygen possible in their bodies; perfect levels. Below 92% is considered the beginning of a problem.
Breathing more or bigger may increase the oxygen levels by only a fraction of 1%, hardly enough to make a difference. 96% - 98% oxygen saturation is more than adequate, even for athletes.
Actually, big deep breathing blows off lots of carbon dioxide. As we found in Truth #2, this can cause problems in the body if too much carbon dioxide is lost.
Myth #4: My breathing is OK.
Selling breath training is a challenge given this myth. Most everyone thinks their breathing is just fine. After all, no one has ever told them there was a problem, especially the medical community.
Truth #4: Breathing studies show 90% of us do not breathe correctly to one degree or another. This may be minor flaws all the way up to total dysfunctional breathing.
Though anecdotal, my client work shows similar results to the breathing studies. In the 10+ years I've been involved with breathing, I've only met a small handful of people, other than those trained as I've been or new born infants, who breathe correctly.
This will sound a bit nerdy but when sitting in airports, I'm fascinated to watch how people breathe. Airport breathing observations show the same result. People are not breathing correctly.
We take breathing for granted and most of us don't understand how it works. Given the negative impact incorrect breathing has on our health, we should all learn a bit more and fix it.
The goal of breath training is to make people aware of how they breathe, correct problems and relieve the symptoms of medical conditions generated by incorrect breathing. A good breathing coach can quickly evaluate your breathe and provide a game plan to correct it along with any associated medical condition.