Science of Breathing: Answering Common Questions

 1) How do you take a deep breath?
Although many people feel a deep breath comes solely from expansion of the chest, chest breathing (in of itself) is not the best way to take a deep breath. To get a full deep breath, learn how to breathe from the diaphragm while simultaneously expanding the chest.
2) What happens when you feel breathless?
Breathlessness is often a response of your flight or fight hormone and nervous system triggering the neck and chest muscles to tighten. This makes breathing laboured and gives a person that breathless feeling.
3) What is hyperventilation syndrome?
Hyperventilation syndrome is also known as over breathing. Breathing too frequently causes this phenomenon. Although it feels like a lack of oxygen, this is not the case at all. The over breathing causes the body to lose considerable carbon dioxide. This loss of carbon dioxide triggers symptoms such as gasping, trembling, choking and the feeling of being smothered. Regrettably, over breathing often perpetuates more over breathing, lowering carbon dioxide levels more, and thus become a nasty sequence. Repich (2002) notes that this hyperventilation syndrome is common in 10% of the population. Fortunately, slow, deep breathing readily alleviates it. The deliberate, even deep breaths help to transition the person to a preferable diaphragmatic breathing pattern.
4) When you feel short of breath, do you need to breathe faster to get more air?
Actually, just the opposite. If you breathe fast, you may start to over breathe and lower your carbon dioxide levels. Once again, slow deep diaphragmatic breathing is recommended.
5) How do you know if you are hyperventilating?
Often times a person does not realize when he/she is hyperventilating. Usually, more focus is centred on the anxiety-provoking situation causing the rapid breathing. With hyperventilation there is much more rapid chest breathing, and thus the chest and shoulders will visibly move much more. As well, if you take about 15-17 breaths per minute or more (in a non-exercise situation) then this could be a more quantifiable measure of probable hyperventilating.
Final Thoughts
The research is very clear that breathing exercises (e.g. pranayama breathing) can enhance parasympathetic (inhibit neural responses) tone, decrease sympathetic (excitatory) nervous activity, improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, decrease the effects of stress, and improve physical and mental health (Pal, Velkumary, and Madanmohan, 2004

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