When practicing yoga and meditation, it’s important to focus on the breath. Deep breaths are encouraged. But in everyday life, it’s easy to put your respiratory system on auto-pilot, shortening your inhales and exhales. Shortened and shallow breaths mean more breaths per minute, and this increase in quantity isn’t exactly of best interest. The more breaths we breathe per minute, the more chance we have of diminishing the quality of our blood, oxygen, and overall health.
While resting, an average adult has a normal respiratory rate of 12 to 18 breaths a minute, but a sick or anxious person might breathe more than that, from overcompensating or from a nervous habit. To break it down, many people hyperventilate without really knowing it. The term hyperventilation usually brings upon an image of someone breathing in and out at a rather quick speed, being given a brown paper bag to breathe into. The idea of breathing into a brown bag is to increase the body’s CO2 levels. But one doesn’t need to be a rapid breather to be hyperventilating. Just a couple of extra breaths per minute is all it takes to alter the body’s levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and those extra breaths can easily go unnoticed.
It’s important to keep oxygen and CO2 levels in balance, due to their effect on the body and blood. We release CO2 upon exhales, but our blood also depends on CO2, for CO2 helps transport oxygen throughout the body. Hyperventilation creates the effect of “excessive expulsion” of circulating CO2, which raises the blood’s pH, which constricts blood vessels, which effects oxygen levels, muscles, the nervous system, and in turn, everything. Not knowing this, it might sound surprising to keep your CO2 levels in check, as CO2 is mainly known as a waste product. But in turn, CO2 plays a vital role in respiratory and circulatory processes.
The first step to overcome problems like over-breathing is to become more conscious of your breath, when you can. Take a moment and see how you are breathing. Where does the breath feel like it’s focused at? Your stomach? Your throat? Are you breathing with your nose, or your mouth? And are your breaths short and rapid, or calm and slow? Find out what a normal breath feels like to you, and chances are, it might not be a normal healthy breath. More next time on improving breath.