Breathing Re – Education
When people are asked to think of the ‘pillars’ of health, most remember the obvious… good nutrition, exercise, quality sleep, and fostering positive thoughts and relationships. On the other hand, it is rare for people to think of ‘how they breathe’ as a determinant of good health. And yet, how we breathe can alter our body’s chemistry and physiology on a moment-to-moment basis.
Breathing is reflexive but sometimes it is also a behaviour. In other words, we can consciously or unconsciously manipulate our breathing i.e. talking, singing, exercising. However, because of this fact, unhealthy habits of breathing can be learned. This can have potent consequences to our health.
A very common dysfunctional breathing habit in the developed world is ‘hidden hyperventilation’ or ‘over-breathing’. This means inhaling too much air for the body’s metabolic demands. It is ‘hidden’ because, it is often quite subtle i.e. fast upper chest breathing. Sometimes dysfunctional breathing is quite obvious, i.e. heavy or loud mouth breathing, snoring, excessive sighing but is not recognized as contributing to symptoms.
In very simple terms, symptoms that are linked to over-breathing are caused by blowing off too much CO2. Contrary to its reputation, CO2 is an extremely important and precious gas in our bodies. CO2 is a product of cellular respiration but it is not a waste gas! Ultimately, this drop in CO2 (hypocapnia) causes a chemical shift in the body which then in turn causes excess smooth muscle contraction. Since smooth muscle is so widespread in the body (blood vessels, lung tissue, gut, and fascia), every system of the body can be affected. Over-breathing can occur at any age. The symptoms and negative health impact of over-breathing can range from mild to severe depending on how chronic the habit has become.
NB: Breathing re-education is part of respiratory physiotherapy practice and therefore, it is
covered by extended health benefit programmes where applicable