Suite 401, Gateway Hospital Medical Centre, 36 Aurora Drive, Umhlanga Ridge 031 566 5959

Breathe your way to your best self

This month we are going to focus on the importance and power of the BREATH!

We shall cover:

Why breathing is so important.

The technical aspects of breathing.

The tell-tale signs and symptoms of breathing badly.

Tips and techniques to ‘breathe better’.

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Why breathing is so important?

First of all, the process of breathing is important because brings oxygen into our body. Oxygen is required for every cell in our body to function. As we breathe out, we release the cellular waste product of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Breathing is essential to life. Without it, we would cease to be.

How exactly does the oxygen get from our lungs to every cell of our body? Through the process of respiration. Let’s paint a helpful analogy …

How do we breathe?

Imagine the breathing system as an upside-down tree. The nose/mouth is the root system, it ‘draws in’ air from the atmosphere. The main wind pipe (called the trachea) is the tree trunk, it channels the air down into the two main branches (called the bronchi). Each main branch leads to a lung, right and left, and starts to branch out into smaller and smaller branches, just like the branches of a tree. These smaller branches are called bronchioles.

The smallest branches, right at the tips, form into the ‘leaves’. These ‘leaves’ are called alveoli. The alveoli are actually tiny balloons. There are literally thousands of them, just like there are thousands of leaves on a tree, all getting ‘fed’ from the same trunk. These balloons are lined with a network of tiny blood vessels (called capillaries).

As the air reaches the balloon and fills it up, the oxygen is absorbed across the inner membrane of the balloon and into the blood vessels. At the same time, the carbon dioxide from the blood vessels absorbs across into the alveoli. An ‘exchange of gases’ takes place. This process is literally called gaseous exchange! This oxygen is then transported, via the blood system, to and from every living cell of the body.

As we breathe out, the carbon dioxide is breathed back through the branch system, back up the trunk, out of our nose/mouth and back into the environment. The REAL trees then breathe in that carbon dioxide and the reverse process happens in order to create oxygen for us… a beautiful example of man and nature working in harmony. Hence the importance of saving our trees and planting as many trees as possible, especially in cities where there are lots of people breathing out carbon dioxide all day long! The Amazon rain forest is the biggest ‘carbon dioxide’ convertor on our planet and unfortunately, more of it gets cut down daily. House plants are also great for this reason. In fact, our very own Spekboom shrub is an excellent carbon dioxide convertor and makes a great house plant.

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How can we tell if our breathing is off?

Just to clear the air, we are not talking about diagnosed chronic breathing problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema. There are also acute breathing problems caused by sinus, bronchial and chest infections. In the case of these problems, we get the health care assistance that we need.

We are talking about a normal healthy set of lungs that are just breathing badly.

Bad breathing occurs when we breathe with our upper chest, rather than our diaphragm. This is usually accompanied by a faster rate of breathing and breathing through the mouth, rather than the nose. There may be times when we find ourselves breathing like this because of blocked sinuses or when we are short of breath or in a panic… but when this becomes our dominant pattern of breathing, we are in trouble.

Symptoms of bad breathing include big sighs, yawning, breath holding, feelings of breathlessness, or feeling unable to take a good breath in or out. Over time, more severe symptoms can develop such as dizziness, anxiety, pins and needles, chest pain or tension, blurred vision, feeling easily overwhelmed, and constantly feeling on edge.

By retraining our breathing, we can return our body and mind to a normal balanced state. Learning to let go and relax is also helpful.

How do we breathe our way to better life?

  1. Conscious and relaxed diaphragmatic breathing– Become aware of how you breathe during different parts of the day. Over the course of a day, you can run a ‘litmus test’ by setting your alarm every hour and ‘checking in’ with your breathing at regular intervals


Here’s a little exercise you can do when your alarm goes off:

In a standing, sitting or lying position, put one hand on your upper chest, over your sternum. This is your top hand. Put the other hand on your upper abdomen, just under hollow created just under your rib cage. This is your bottom hand.


Your top hand should be fairly still, whereas your bottom hand should be rising and falling evenly with your breathing. This is a sign that you are using your diaphragm to breathe and NOT the accessory breathing muscles around your neck and shoulders. These muscles should only be used when you are exerting yourself, like when you are running, playing sport or at the gym. They are used to ‘top up’ your breathing when your body needs extra juice. You should not be using them in a resting state. You may want to watch yourself in the mirror… are your shoulders rising and falling with your breaths? They should be fairly relaxed and motionless.


  1. Breathe through your nose –A closed mouth, with the tongue placed on the palate, ensures that the breathing happens in and out the nose. If your nose is stuffy, do a sinus rinse or address the allergies that may be causing this. Breathing in through the nose enables the air to be filtered and cleaned by the tiny hairs and mucous inside the nasal passages. It also slows down, evens out and deepens the passage of air into the lungs, enabling it to reach the ‘leaves of the tree’, where the oxygen can be effectively absorbed into the blood supply. When we ‘gulp’ in air through our mouth and breathe too quickly, the air does not always meet its desired destination in the alveoli. This means that our blood is not getting the oxygen.


  1. Extended exhale –An extended exhale increases the relaxation and makes the inhale deeper and more rhythmical. For optimal breathing, the inhale should be 2-3 seconds, exhale 3-4 seconds followed by a pause for 2-3 seconds.


  1. Upright posture – An upright position allows for deeper breathing, as the diaphragm gets more space to work. This is because the abdominal contents drop slightly and no longer put an upward pressure on the diaphragm. Think of string attached to your crown, ‘drawing you upwards’.


  1. Being body conscious –Be aware of your body and how tense or relaxed it is in different situations. Are your shoulders relaxed down and away from your ears? Is your jaw relaxed? Is your chest open? Think of another string attached to your breast bone, gently pulling you ‘up and out’.


Most importantly, do you have a happy smile on your face?

So there you have it… relax, smile and breathe your way to your best self.

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