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Master The Art of Breathing

By on September 1, 2019

Improve Your Health at No Cost

BY: DR. JOHN McELLIGOTT, DR. JOHN’S MEDICAL SOLUTIONS

About 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with central sleep apnea. In my case, the cause is not obstructive but between my ears in my brain. Central sleep apnea is usually associated with an Apnea/Hypopnea Index below 15 per hour (AHI – means the number of times during the night when my breathing slows or stops, causing low blood-oxygen levels). During these “events,” my body wakes up enough to re-establish normal breathing; then the whole cycle repeats. Usually, I’m not even aware of it. This pattern keeps me from getting enough deep, restful sleep. My central apnea and obstructive sleep apnea can be treated with Positive Airway Pressure (PAP) or more commonly referred to as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP).

After multiple mask fittings, I arrived at a CPAP solution that worked for me. Life was great until 10 years later when I started feeling tired and sleepy during the day. This got me thinking about a way to stay awake, alert, and to feel better throughout the day. My solution has been introducing “breathing” challenges during the day.

Deep Breathing

I started using an exercise that was helpful for COPD patients back in the day. I regularly work at taking deep breaths (as deep as I can) and blow it out like I’m whistling for as long as I can. This is called a positive pressure maneuver that increases the oxygen tension in the lungs by opening up all the alveoli (air sacs in the lungs that collect oxygen). This deep breathing causes my blood oxygen saturation to go up a few points and makes me more alert, and not so sleepy. The exercise worked well but was hard to remember to do routinely.

I also remembered that yoga does the same thing when consistently practiced. The problem is most of us aren’t consistent enough. Another problem with yoga is finding a place during the day to go through the positions. Also, it looks a little funny when I do the maneuver that resembles a dog getting ready to do its business against a lamp post. My dignity aside, this is one of my favorites because it helps with breathing and stretches my back.

When you take in a deep breath, it sends a message to the brain that will calm you down. With many people, this helps slow and even stops anxiety and stress. Your heart rate and blood pressure normalize, and you become calm and alert. These techniques are used in the military even to this day. Studies show that regulated breathing allows the brain to minimize stress.1 This maneuver, done several times a day or in my case every hour, is a lifesaver that protects your mental health, heart health, digestion, urinary urgency, skin texture, and makes life more livable. But you must do it regularly, even with the day-to-day challenges and distractions we all face. 

How It Works

How does deep breathing work? Simple, it’s just another exercise. But it must be done properly by breathing in and breathing out against the pressure. The latter is especially needed by smokers since they start developing lung issues about 5-10 years after starting the habit. Creating pressure at the nose when exhaling goes all the way down every inch of the nasal cavity to the trachea, bronchial tubes, and on to the alveoli. The alveoli expand and catch more oxygen when the inhalation phase starts. This extra oxygen is responsible for the disappearance of many annoying symptoms one experiences during the day. Also, you’ll sleep better and make your days more productive. 

In most cases, medications are not the answer. Meds have peaks and valleys due to body metabolism. Some people have severe rebound stress/anxiety followed by exhaustion and depression, depending on the individual and the circumstances. The pill pushers don’t lobby for breathing exercises as treatment since they don’t require a doctor. Look up “breathing exercises” on the Internet. Try to find a “breathing coach” video. You can master the proper technique in just a few hours.

Here is what Rachael Rifkin had to say in Headspace. This is my favorite, and I recommend you login to her blog that explains how shallow breathing affects the whole body.2

“Shallow breathing doesn’t just make stress a response, it makes stress a habit our bodies, and therefore, our minds, are locked into,” says John Luckovich, an apprentice Integrative Breathwork facilitator in Brooklyn, New York.

To practice breathing from your diaphragm, lie on your back with one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Breathe in deeply while pushing out your stomach as far as you can. The hand on your stomach will move out and the hand on your chest will remain still. When you exhale, you will feel your stomach pulling back in. Both your chest and shoulders should stay relaxed and still.”

As always, don’t start smoking, stop if you do, and practice your breathing exercises every day. 

About Warren Eulgen

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