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Over breathing: A recipe for unwellness

Ever find yourself wanting to strangle your partner for snoring? Do you feel like you’re chest breathing when you’re anxious? Do you experience sleep apnoea or sinusitis? Are you the deep loud breather in your yoga class? Do you have a child who suffers from asthma or a constantly blocked nose? Is sighing a regular response to your daily activity? These are all signs that dysfunctional breathing has settled in.

90% of humans are dysfunctional breathers and therefore create a carbon dioxide deficit or habit of overbreathing.

Luckily for us, science has come along to confirm the benefits of yet another yoga technique: when it comes to longevity and wellbeing, actually breathing less, not more, is proving to be more beneficial.

For those of you who haven’t hit the yoga mat yet, Pranayama is one of the 8 limbs of yoga that focuses on the cessation (or slowing down/directing flow of) our breathing. I know when I have done a great yoga practice, because my breathing almost ceases to exist and slows down to a rate of about 5 breaths per minute (it’s normally about 8–12 breaths per minute). It brings a profound state of calm to my mind and leaves me feeling so much less ‘needy’.

I recently attended a course with Canberra’s own breathing educator Tess Graham of According to her studies, we have developed bad breathing habits due to periods of high stress levels, poor posture, mouth breathing, poor nutrition, chronic coughing, overheating and the list goes on. The good news is it’s fairly easy to correct with more awareness and practice.

What is normal breathing?

  • Breathe through your nose not your mouth if comfortable (day and night).

  • Have an upright posture to give the diaphragm space to soften and open.

  • The diaphragm under ribs (not belly) has a small movement.

  • A rate of 8 - 12 breaths per minute

  • Tidal volume of 500ml (1/8 - 1/10 of lung capacity)

  • Breathe silently in a regular and smooth rhythm.

  • Breaths are soft and gentle, and only deep under strong exertion.

Making small regular changes during the day will set you up for good breathing habits at night and may save your marriage! And by simply retraining yourself to breathe ‘normally’ you will be able to put yourself back to sleep when you wake up at 2 am – what a revelation! You can also reduce muscular tension and stimulate the release of natural antihistamine in spring. It also helps to:

  • reduce sinus congestion

  • avoid snoring

  • cure restless leg syndrome

  • avoid ADHD and sleep apnoea

  • dilate your arteries.

Deep yogic breaths: not so yogic after all!

For years, modern yoga has taught us to take deep breaths and blow off our CO2. But has modern yoga forgotten to relate back to traditional texts?

So long as the (breathing) air stays in the body, it is called life. Death consists of passing out of the (breathing) air. It is therefore necessary to retrain the breath. Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Original yoga manuscripts (Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Gheranda Samhita and the Shiva Samhita) do not have any referrals to ‘deep breathing’. They suggest the opposite: to restrain, keep in, calm and hold the breath. Yet many modern yoga texts claim deep breathing, particularly deep exhalations, expel toxins like CO2.

As we move through asanas (yoga postures), and we feel our metabolism demand increase, it makes sense to allow the deeper breath to naturally arise, and let it naturally quieten as a response. It also produces a relaxation response. Synchronising movement and breath brings deeper levels of awareness to our ability to observe the mind during asanas or postures.

You may have heard of many having reversed asthma with the Butekyo breathing technique. Doctor and physiologist Dr Buteyko focused on Hatha yoga and the main Hatha yoga breathing exercise, Pranayama, particularly promoting breathing cessation (under supervision).

Yoga pose is a steady and comfortable position. Yoga pose is mastered by relaxation of effort, lessening the tendency for restless breathing, and promoting an identification of oneself as living within the infinite breath of life. The sage Patanjali

CO2 eliminates mental chatter and promotes easier meditation and mindfulness.

Breathing retraining has a strong effect on reducing mental chatter, as well as anxiety levels. Most meditation and mindfulness techniques naturally lead to slower and easier breathing. And remarkably, CO2 is a natural muscle relaxant. Voila!

If you would like help to retrain your breathing, book in for an initial Reflexology Health Insight session where I will check your breathing patterns. If you need more attention I can refer you on to Tess Graham.

Om shanti


With thanks to Tess Graham of for providing current research information and providing training for therapists.

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