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Breathing FAQs

Here are some common questions about breathing and other topics that people frequently ask us. We will continue to expand this list as time goes on. If you have a "burning question" about breathing or breathing exercises, or about anything else related to the material on our website, that is important to you and relevant to others, please let us know. If we can respond in any reasonable way to your question, we may include it here, along with the response. Click here to send us your questions.

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bulletCan a change in my breathing help with hypertension (high blood pressure)?


  1. The Buteyko people say that "deep breathing" is bad for us. What do you think of their arguments?
  2. How does the diaphragm work? Is it active or passive?
  3. What is natural breathing?
  4. Why don't we breathe naturally?
  5. Are there any tests I can take to see if I'm breathing in a healthy way?
  6. Can breathing exercises help me lose weight?
  7. Any breathing suggestions for runners?
  8. What is chronic hyperventilation?
  9. Is it important to breathe through my nose?
  10. Isn't it okay to breathe through my mouth when I'm working out or engaged in sports?
  11. Why is "belly breathing" so important?
  12. Are there any dangers associated with doing advanced pranayama exercises?
  13. What are the possible causes of having difficulty breathing?
  14. What are hiccups and how serious are they?
  15. What causes asthma & what breathing practices can help?
  16. When I travel to high altitudes, I have trouble breathing. What's going on?
  17. Can a change in my breathing help with hypertension (high blood pressure)?
  18. What are some of Dennis Lewis' favorite books on breathing?

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The Buteyko people say that "deep breathing" is bad for us. What do you think of their arguments? 

A year or so ago I [Dennis Lewis] visited a Buteyko oriented website and came across a rather unusual article and breathing test. We were to take several fast deep breaths and to see how we felt after doing so. We were then told that we would probably not feel very good after this effort and that this proves that deep breathing is bad for us. Of course, the article did not point out that many of us, because of our poor breathing habits, don't have the slightest notion of what is involved is free and easy "deep breathing."

In any event, I sent the following letter to the owners of this site. I never did hear back from them.

Your article entitled "Buteyko’s breathing test" is misleading and confusing. First of all, there is no one final way to breathe. Our breath is designed to support the physical, emotional, and mental demands of our lives. For our breathing to accomplish this in an optimal and efficient way, our diaphragm and other breathing muscles need to be strong enough and free enough of unnecessary tension to be able to move through their full range of motion in a coordinated way. Sometimes we need to breathe deeply. At other times we need to breathe shallowly.

The English word “deep” in the expression “deep breathing” does not (or at least should not) refer to the volume of air in any given time period but rather to the depth that the diaphragm is able to move downward and upward on inhalation and exhalation. The farther the diaphragm can move downward on inhalation and upward on exhalation, the deeper the breath. Except for those with severe pulmonary problems, a person who breathes more deeply most often breathes more slowly as well. Deep breathing depends on the ability of the diaphragm, belly, lower ribs, and spine all to participate in the breathing process. If there is too much stress or tension in and around these areas, deep breathing will not be possible.

“Shallow breathing” means, or at least should mean, that the diaphragm moves down and up very little during breathing. In fact, many people are shallow breathers, not because their lives dictate shallow breathing, but rather because of weakness and tension in their breathing muscles, or a lack of good coordination. Instead of using their diaphragms effectively, they try to use the secondary breathing muscles of their chest. Many people who try to do deep breathing without being able to or understanding how, end up simply tensing their secondary breathing muscles and lifting their shoulders and upper chest to try to take in more air. In such cases, their diaphragms move very little, and they lose the many benefits of diaphragmatic breathing, which include an internal massage of all the inner organs, aiding venous blood flow and lymphatic flow, and much more. These people end up having to breathe faster, which can result in an excessive loss of carbon dioxide, which can cause all kinds of problems as you know so well.

When your article says, “MANY people think they breathe shallowly but in fact they breathe very deeply. Often those with asthma, allergies, bronchitis, emphysema and breathlessness will say they cannot breathe enough when they are actually breathing three or more times the normal volume of air,” you are clearly not talking about deep breathing, but rather about the volume of air in a certain time period, a volume that is achieved by fast effortful breathing not by deep relaxed breathing.

I hope that you and the other Buteyko people, who have been able to help many asthmatics and others with serious breathing problems, stop misusing the English language and begin to see how and when the Buteyko techniques can fit in to the rich panoply of breathing approaches and methods available to all of us for our health and well-being.  Deep, full breathing has benefited so many people in so many different contexts and areas of life (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) that is hard to imagine how you can continue attacking it, especially when your definition of deep breathing is so far off base.

Read this informative article by Rosalba Courtney-Belford, an osteopath and well-known proponent of the Buteyko approach, in which she explains the importance of carbon dioxide to our health. Though we obviously do not endorse the Buteyko emphasis on "shallow breathing," we do agree with what Buteyko and his proponents say about the vital relationship of carbon dioxide to health.

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What is natural breathing?

Natural breathing is whole-body breathing--the way a healthy baby, young child, or animal breathes. Natural breathing involves the harmonious interplay of the lungs, diaphragm, belly, chest, back, and other parts of the human body. In natural breathing, the depth and speed of the breath is appropriate to the actual demands of the moment, as long as those demands are not being conditioned by unnecessary tensions, contractions, or restrictions in the body.

During inhalation, the diaphragm moves downward massaging, either directly or indirectly, all the organs, and the energetic wave of breath moves upward through entire body, opening the belly, chest, back, and lungs. During exhalation, the diaphragm moves upward massaging the heart, and the wave of breath moves downward closing the lungs, chest, back, and belly. In human beings, natural breathing occurs mainly through the nose. This not only ensures the natural filtering, warming, and moisturizing of the air, but it also helps ensure that we don't release carbon dioxide too quickly. (See the question about chronic hyperventilation.)

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Why don't we breathe naturally?

Because of the constant pressure of stress in our inner and outer lives, many of us do not breathe naturally. We have become upper chest breathers. This causes us to breathe faster than we should, often bringing about a chronic state of hyperventilation, a state in which we breathe too fast for the real demands of the situation. Those of us who breathe too fast often find ourselves holding our breath in moments of stress and fear. This is a natural momentary response to the presence of danger (it often signals the beginning the "fight or flight" reflex, a reflex which we especially needed in our early history on this earth). In a society in which stress has become the norm, however, our fight or flight response in turned on many hours each day, and we find ourselves either breathing very fast or holding our breath. In addition, since childhood, we've learned to use breathing to cut ourselves off from uncomfortable feelings and sensations. By breathing less, in more-shallow way-- we generally feel less. Another important factor is the growing lack of daily exercise, stretching, movement, and so on, in our daily life. Many of us sit more or less immobile at desks for many hours each day. This gradually conditions our breathing to a very narrow range of movement. Still another factor is the prevailing image of the hard, flat belly that we see in fashion magazines and health clubs. To be sure, the belly needs to be strong, but it also needs to be flexible for deep, natural breathing.

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Are there any tests I can take to see if I'm breathing in a healthy way?

Except for medical problems related to breathing, I’m generally not an advocate of "breathing tests," since they are often measured in either an extremely statistical or extremely subjective way. They also tend to create anxiety in the person being tested, and to reduce breathing to an entirely mechanical process having little to do with awareness and the more inward and spiritual dimensions of breath.

That being said, you might well want to learn more about some of the important "objective" markers of healthy breathing, and to see how your own breathing measures up, at Michael White’s Optimal Breathing site. Known as "the breathing coach," Mike has put a lot of thought, knowledge, and experience into these "self-tests," and they can be quite revealing. When you take these self-tests, however, please don’t try too hard. Use the tests as a way to learn more about your own current way of breathing. And whatever the numbers seem to tell you, don’t be frightened or elated by the results. Clearly, you would not be exploring breathing if you didn’t already know or sense that your own breathing is not as complete, natural, effective, and free as it could be, no matter what the test results tell you. With breathing, it is never a good idea to compare yourself with anyone else. What is important is to feel each day that your breathing is becoming freer, more authentic, and more natural. Click here to take the tests.

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Can breathing exercises help me to lose weight?

Learning how to breathe more naturally, the way our bodies were designed to breathe, can have a powerful influence on our overall health, including our metabolism. Depending on the kinds of problems we have, better, more authentic breathing can influence the amount of exercise we get, the way we feel about ourselves, the kinds of food we eat, the amount of energy we have, and so on. All of this can result in losing (or even gaining) weight naturally and appropriately.

Breathing exercises undertaken directly to lose weight, however, even when they might be effective in the short term, can cause many problems for the future. Our breath is an incredible gift, a fundamental force that  has subtle interrelationships with all the different sides of ourselves--body, mind, emotions, and spirit. In my opinion, using forceful breathing activities and exercises as a shortcut to lose weight can not only have a negative impact on our breathing in the long term, but can also disharmonize these interrelationships and lead to serious physical, psychological, and spiritual problems for the future.

For those of you who genuinely wish to lose weight, my own suggestion is to learn how to breathe in a natural and healthy way, get sufficient exercise, and eat a balanced and healthful array of foods. A book that you might find helpful with regard to the principles of healthy eating and weight loss is The Zone: A Dietary Road Map to Lose Weight Permanently: Reset Your Genetic Code; Prevent Disease; Achieve Maximum Physical Performance; Enhance Mental Productivity by Barry Sears, PH.D. Or try some of the books in the Books box below, especially A Week in the Zone.

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What is chronic hyperventilation?

Physiology books tell us that the average rate of breathing while at rest is approximately 12 to 14 times a minute (a rate which qigong and yoga practitioners, breathing therapists, and others have demonstrated is faster than it needs to be). In observing our breath, many of us may notice that we breathe even faster than this so-called average rate.  Many of us, without knowing it, habitually "hyperventilate"—that is, we take quick, shallow breaths from the top of our chest. These quick, shallow breaths sharply reduce the level of carbon dioxide in our blood. This reduced level of carbon dioxide causes the arteries, including the carotid artery going to the brain, to constrict, thus reducing the flow of blood throughout the body. When this occurs, no matter how much oxygen we may breathe into our lungs, our brain and body will experience a shortage of oxygen. The lack of sufficient oxygen switches on the sympathetic nervous system—our "fight or flight" reflex—which makes us tense, anxious, and irritable. It also reduces our ability to think clearly, and tends to put us at the mercy of obsessive thoughts and images. Some researchers believe that hyperventilation can actually magnify our psychological problems and conflicts, and that chronic hyperventilation is intimately bound up with our anxieties, apprehensions, and fears. For many of us this is a chronic condition. Those who work seriously with yoga, qigong, or natural breathing, however, find that their breath rates slow dramatically, in some cases down to a resting rate of three or four breaths per minute. This has many benefits, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

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Is it important to breathe through my nose?

Yes, when possible. When we breathe through our nose, the hairs that line our nostrils filter out particles of dust and dirt that can be injurious to our lungs. If too many particles accumulate on the membranes of the nose, we automatically secret mucus to trap them or sneeze to expel them. The mucous membranes of our septum, which divides the nose into two cavities, further prepare the air for our lungs by warming and humidifying it.

Another very important reason for breathing through the nose has to do with maintaining the correct balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood. When we breathe through our mouth we usually inhale and exhale air quickly in large volumes. This often leads to a kind of hyperventilation (breathing excessively fast for the actual conditions in which we find ourselves). It is important to recognize that it is the amount of carbon dioxide in our blood that generally regulates our breathing. Research has shown that if we release carbon dioxide too quickly, the arteries and vessels carrying blood to our cells constrict and the oxygen in our blood is unable to reach the cells in sufficient quantity. This includes the carotid arteries which carry blood (and oxygen) to the brain. The lack of sufficient oxygen going to the cells of the brain can turn on our sympathetic nervous system, our "fight or flight" response, and make us tense, anxious, irritable, and depressed. There are some researchers who believe that mouth breathing and the associated hyperventilation that it brings about can result in asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, and many other medical problems.

And finally, let's hear what famed osteopath Robert C. Fulford, D.O. has to say in his wonderful book Dr. Fulford's Touch of Life about nose breathing: "Remember: always try to breathe through your nostrils, and not through your mouth, because air must contact the olfactory nerves to stimulate your brain and put it into its natural rhythm. If you don't breathe through your nose, in a sense you're only half alive."

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Why is "belly breathing" so important?

To breathe naturally and authentically, our belly needs to be supple. It needs to be able to expand on inhalation and retract on exhalation. This bellows-like movement of the belly supports the downward and upward movements of the diaphragm. When the belly expands on inhalation, the diaphragm can move farther downward into the abdomen, allowing the lungs to expand more fully. When the belly retracts on exhalation, the diaphragm can move further upward, helping the lungs to expel gases more fully. The increased downward and upward movements of the diaphragm, along with the outward and inward movements of the belly, not only help to slow down our breath rate and to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide more efficiently, but they also help to massage all our internal organs, including the heart. This "internal massage" has a healthful impact on digestion, elimination, blood flow,  the immune system, and the nervous system. People who are shallow breathers either by habit or by design lose these many benefits of deep breathing, or what we sometimes call "belly breathing."

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Are there any dangers associated with doing advanced pranayama exercises?

Yes, there can be, especially for people who don't already breathe naturally, who carry a great deal of tension in their chests, backs, and bellies. People who practice pranayama exercises without good teachers or much experience can easily hurt their diaphragms and other breathing muscles. They can also cause imbalances in their internal chemistry. 

For most people, one of the main keys to transforming one's breathing in a safe and effective way has to do with gradually relaxing and opening up all the breathing structures of the body--with releasing unnecessary tension--so that the body is free to breathe in the way it was designed to breathe, with harmonious coordination among the various breathing muscles and tissues. In general, this process requires deep relaxation, not willful effort. It also requires inner sensitivity and awareness, a more direct contact with our sensations.

"The great spiritual pathfinder G. I. Gurdjieff ... warned that without complete knowledge of our organism, especially of the interrelationships of the rhythms of our various organs, efforts to change our breathing can bring great harm. It is clear that work with breathing, especially some of the advanced yogic breathing techniques (pranayama) taught in the West through both classes and books, is fraught with many dangers. In his book Hara: The Vital Center of Man, Karlfried Durckheim—a pioneer in the integration of body, mind, and spirit—discusses some of the dangers of teaching yogic breathing techniques to Westerners. He points out that most of these exercises, which "imply tension," were designed for Indians, who suffer from 'an inert letting-go.' Westerners, on the other hand, suffer from 'too much upward pull … too much will.' Durckheim states that even though many yoga teachers try to help their students relax before giving them breathing exercises, they do not realize that the 'letting-go' required for deep relaxation can be achieved 'only after long practice.' At best, says Durckheim, giving breathing exercises prematurely grafts new tensions onto the already established ones, and brings about 'an artificially induced vitality … followed by a condition of exhaustion and the aspirant discontinues his efforts, his practice.'" (From the introduction to The Tao of Natural Breathing, by Dennis Lewis.)

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What are the possible causes of having difficulty breathing?

Difficulty breathing can be the result of a cold or some other minor problem, but it can also often signal a major health problem. Depending on other symptoms, these problems can include pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, allergies, panic attacks, myocharditis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure, carbon monoxide poisoning, anemia, collapsed lung, embolism, and many other serious medical conditions.

Don’t ever take a breathing problem lightly. See your doctor if you have any kind of trouble breathing. For a comprehensive chart of symptoms and possible causes associated with breathing difficulties, go to:

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What are hiccups and how serious are they?

Though most people are unaware of this, a hiccup results from a spasm of the diaphragm. Associated with this spasm is a sudden intake of breath and a closing of the glottis (the space between the vocal cords at the upper part of the larynx).

While ordinary hiccups, caused by such things as stress and overeating, have few if any consequences, troublesome, prolonged, and uncontrollable hiccups can lead to more serious problems. These problems can include: depression, acid reflux, heart rhythm disturbances, fatigue, and so on.

Troublesome hiccups can be the result of a variety of things, including alcoholism, AIDS complications, encephalitis, meningitis, various gastrointestinal problems, and reactions to medications. So if you do have prolonged, recurring bouts of hiccups, be sure to get a check up from your doctor.

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What Causes Asthma & What Breathing Practices Can Help?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the number of asthma sufferers has risen from 6.7 million in 1980 to 17.3 million in 1998. Of these, 4.8 million are said to be children. Apparently, the most striking increases have occurred in Australia, where approximately 25 percent of all children have been diagnosed with asthma. Since 1998, asthma has continued rising worldwide.

In normal breathing, air flows more or less freely into and out of the lungs. During an asthma attack, however, airway linings swell, muscles around the airways tighten and constrict, and the airways of the lungs become clogged with mucus. The end result is episodes of coughing, wheezing, and breathlessness, with a suffocating sense of never being able to get enough air.

No Scientific Consensus on What Causes Asthma

Asthma attacks can be brought on by many things, including stress, exercise, respiratory infections, irritating smells, pollen, smoke, dust or dust mites, mold, mildew, certain kinds of food, and so on. A study (1994) in The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine seems to show that “gas stove exposure” increased asthma symptoms and resulted in more visits to the emergency room. The findings seem to suggest that those with severe asthma should avoid gas stove cooking.

Though theories abound as to what causes asthma, there is no real consensus. Scientists 13 years ago thought that petroleum-based pollutants might be a major cause, but this theory is no longer in favor since asthma cases are surging while pollution levels are said, at least by some, to be declining. One of the latest theories is that genetics are involved.  Researchers at the Lawrence National Laboratory in California say they have recently isolated two genes that they believe contribute to asthma.

One recent and unsusual theory has to do with the increasing hygiene of modern life. This theory states that since babies are less exposed to viruses and bacteria than they were in previous generations, their immune systems do not develop fully. These researchers point out that people who live in rural areas or on farms—people who are much more likely to be exposed to organisms in the soil—are much less likely to get asthma than those who don’t. Recent studies (2003) seem to confirm these findings.

Chronic Hyperventilation

Another intriguing theory, this one coming from Dr. Konstantine Pavlovich Buteyko in Russia, and this one seemingly offering a cure, claims that asthma is really just the result of bad breathing habits, especially “deep breathing." What Buteyko seems to actually mean by "deep breathing" is "over breathing." When we inhale and exhale too much air too quickly, says Buteyko, we lose too much carbon dioxide too quickly. We hyperventilate. This fast loss of carbon dioxide causes the various airways to clog and tighten, and also makes it difficult for the oxygen in our blood to reach the cells of our brain and body. Buteyko tells us that the symptoms of asthma are simply the body’s way of attempting to slow down the loss of carbon dioxide. His cure? Breathe less.

Buteyko and his instructors cite their high incidence of success in helping people reduce or even eliminate both their symptoms and their medications through their methods as proof that they are right. But their logic seems a bit flawed. Clearly, one can influence asthma through good breathing habits. One can also influence asthma through specialized breathing techniques that help increase carbon dioxide in the body to normal levels. But this reduction of symptoms does not prove that asthma is caused by not breathing a certain way, any more than reducing asthma symptoms through medication proves that asthma is caused by not taking the right medication. And it certainly does not prove that "deep breathing" is the culprit behind asthma, especially since many of us in today’s stress-filled world, including asthmatics, are unable to breathe fully and deeply in the first place. The fact is, many people who "over breathe" do not get asthma, though they may, indeed, eventually wind up with other health problems.

Nonetheless, Buteyko is clearly right about "over breathing." When we breathe too much air for the needs of the moment—that is, when we "over breathe"—we are actually hyperventilating. And chronic hyperventilation does indeed have many negative health consequences, including a constriction of the airways. Related to this increasing phenomenon of "over breathing" is the fact that more and more people today breathe frequently through their mouths. Unless one breathes very slowly, breathing through the mouth, especially on exhalation, is associated with a rapid loss of carbon dioxide. Asthmatics must learn to breath through the nose, and this may require special breathing practices.

Learning to Breathe in a Coordinated Way with Your Whole Body

As vital as the oxygen/carbon dioxide balance is to asthma and many other diseases, healthy breathing is not just a matter of blood chemistry. It also requires the full fluid motion, coordination, and use of all the breathing muscles and spaces of the body. For most people, this will require increased awareness of their breathing habits and an exploration of natural, authentic breathing. When we breathe though our nose in a coordinated way with our whole body (including our diaphragm, belly, back, and chest) our breath automatically slows down and we instinctively begin to breathe the right amount of air for the demands of the moment. While one is still learning how to breathe in this way, it is imperative to breathe as much as is possible only through your nose, and to learn to extend the length of your exhalation whenever possible.

For information about whole body breathing and how to make it a reality in your life, you can read The Tao of Natural Breathing and Free Your Breath, Free Your Life, or listen to the three-CD set Natural Breathing, all by Dennis Lewis. For safe, effective ways of extending your exhalation to reduce hyperventilation, please contact us through the address or phone number on this website to set up a personal meeting or a phone consultation with Dennis Lewis.

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What are Some of Dennis Lewis' Favorite Books on Breathing

People often ask Dennis Lewis, author of Free Your Breath, Free Your Life, what books or manuals besides his own he recommends for those who want to work with their breath in a serious way. Here's a list of several of his favorites (in no particular order):

bulletIlse Middendorf, "The Perceptible Breath: A Breathing Science" (Paderborn, Germany: Junfermann-Verlag). Middendorf, who is based in Germany, is a pioneer in the exploration of breath and one of the world's leading breathing therapists. This book is a "must have" for anyone serious about breathwork. If you have trouble finding the book through your local library (it is not generally available in bookstores), contact the Middendorf Breath Institute in San Francisco, California, through their website at
bulletDonna Farhi, "The Breathing Book: Good Health and Vitality Through Essential Breath Work" (New York: Owl Books). Farhi is an internationally renowned Yoga teacher based in New Zealand. The book, which is widely available in bookstores, is an invaluable guide to both the theory and practice of healthy breathing.
bulletCarola Speads, "Ways to Better Breathing" (Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press). Speads studied and taught for many years with famed movement teacher Elsa Gindler. Her book provides simple but powerful methods for awakening our authentic breath.
bulletCarl Stough and Reece Stough, "Dr. Breath: The Story of Breathing Coordination." This is an excellent book by a breath explorer who has worked with both Olympic athletes and respiratory patients. You can learn more at
bulletMichael Grant White, Secrets of Optimal Natural Breathing. Mike White, also known as "The Breathing Coach," updates this helpful, important manual several times a year.
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Isn't it okay to breathe through my mouth when I'm working out or engaged in sports?

In general, no. In her wonderful book The Fitness Instinct, Peg Jordan, a registered nurse and founder of American Fitness Magazine, recounts the story of John Douillard, an Ayurvedic physical therapist who worked with tennis stars like Martina Navratilova. Douillard had to convince them to bring their workout "intensity down to level where they could breathe through their noses." Though they resisted this at first, Douillard was able to convince them through a battery of sports tests that training in this way  "actually improved their performance, stamina, focus, and coordination." Jordan writes: "Douillard knew that breathing through the mouth tends to inflate only the upper lobes of the lungs, which are connected to sympathetic nerve fibers, the branch of the nervous system that activates the flight-or-flight fear response. ... When you switch to nose breathing, you inflate the entire lung, including the lower lobes, which are connected to the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, the branch that calms the body, slows the heart rate, relaxes, and soothes. Through proper nose breathing, you employ both branches of the nervous system. At times the foot is on the brake; at times, it is on the gas. The back-and-forth fluctuation is a balancing act that your body intrinsically knows how to do and that your mind appreciates."

In other words, proper nose breathing brings a balance to our nervous system that mouth breathing cannot bring. Once we have accustomed ourselves to working out in this way--doing only as much as we can do while still breathing through our nose--this balance ensures the most efficient, effective, and satisfying use of our physical, emotional, and mental resources.

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When I travel to high altitudes, I have trouble breathing. What's going on?

If you live in or travel to high altitudes, you are breathing "thin" or "skinny" air. At sea level, oxygen comprises about 21 percent of the air that you breathe. It is important to realize that air pressure decreases as altitude increases. At 12,000 feet (3,658 meters), for example, there are roughly 40 percent fewer oxygen molecules available to you for each breath.

To compensate for the reduced oxygen content of the air, people at high altitudes automatically start breathing much faster, even at rest. Breathing thinner air has many potential consequences, and none of them are very good. Symptoms can range from headaches, insomnia,  general malaise, anxiety, and loss of appetite, to reduced physical coordination, delusional thinking and emotional states, and even life-threatening medical conditions such as high-altitude pulmonary edema and high-altitude cerebral edema.

To be able to handle high altitudes in the most effective way, the key is to breathe in the most efficient and coordinated way possible, so as to take in the maximum amount of oxygen with each breath and ensure that this oxygen reaches the cells of the brain and body. Those who already have constricted breathing patterns of some kind will not do well in high altitudes. This includes habitual mouth breathers and people who chronically hyperventilate. Neither will those do well who have excessive insulin in their bodies (through overeating, the wrong ratios of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, or disease)), which tends to constrict the breathing airways, as well  as the blood vessels that deliver oxygen to where it is needed.

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Can a Change in My Breathing Help with Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)?

In many cases--yes. As discussed in a few of the questions above (Buteyko, nose breathing, and hyperventilation), when we lose too much carbon dioxide too quickly through chronic hyperventilation (breathing too fast or too much air for the conditions in which you find yourself) or because of other forms of faulty breathing, the arteries and vessels constrict and the red blood cells become sticky. This means that the heart has to work harder to attempt to get oxygen where it is needed in the brain and body. This can exacerbate or even cause high blood pressure in many people.

By undertaking a program of natural, authentic breathing to eliminate bad breathing habits (such as frequent mouth breathing) and to ensure that the diaphragm can move freely through it full range of motion in coordination with appropriate effortless movement from the belly, back, ribs, and chest--one can not only help turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, the "relaxation response," but one can also reduce or even eliminate chronic hyperventilation. The net result can be a reduction in blood pressure.

It is also important to lose any excess weight and to exercise daily. This will also help your breathing. Brisk walking for at least 30 minutes a day and swimming are excellent practices for those with mild to moderate hypertension. If you are undertaking a new exercise program, however, be sure to discuss your it with your licensed health care professional before beginning.


In addition to undertaking an on-going program of authentic breathing, a safe, powerful easy-to-use device that may also help you reduce your blood pressure is the FDA-cleared product called RESPeRATE. Used for just 15 minutes a day, a few days a week, this device helps slow your breathing down in a natural, effortless way, and has been clinically shown to help reduce blood pressure.  It is also very helpful in reducing stress and anxiety. RESPeRATE automatically analyzes your individual breathing pattern and creates a personalized melody composed of two distinct inhale and exhale guiding tones. You simply listen to the melody through the headphones and effortlessly synchronize your breathing to the tones. By prolonging the exhalation tone, RESPeRATE guides you to slow your breathing and reach the "therapeutic zone" of less than 10 breaths a minute. RESPeRATE has been featured in multiple media channels including NBC, CBS, FOX and ABC. Learn more about it, including quotations from MDs and recent research that has been done.

Supplements that Can Help

Aside from the usual blood pressure medications, which often have undesirable side effects and sometimes don't even work, there are a variety of safe supplements that can also often help your breathing and blood pressure. For instance, research has shown that ultra-refined fish oil can by itself reduce high blood pressure. Other supplements that can help are Perfusia (L-Arginine), L-Carnatine, magnesium, and Coenzyme Q10, as well as herbs such as Balance3 ( Another important consideration is being sure that you get enough potassium. A safe, simple way to help ensure this is to drink a (5.5 fluid ounces) can of low-sodium V8 juice at both breakfast and dinner. The ratio per can (Campbell's low-sodium V8 juice) of 570 mg of potassium to 80 mg of sodium is a healthy one according to Julian Whitaker M.D., and will help ensure that you get adequate potassium in a safe way. He also recommends the other supplements we've listed above.

If you undertake any or all of the approaches discussed above and are already taking BP medication, however, it is important to work closely with a licensed health care professional before reducing or discontinuing your medication.

Lifestyle Changes

If you breathe poorly and have high blood pressure, you may also need to look at the kind of life you live. If you are in life conditions that constantly make you anxious, fearful, angry, irritated, and so on, you can be sure that these emotional states are intimately bound up with your breathing. Depending on your heredity, conditioning, and level of awareness, you may be living in conditions and in such a way that no amount of better breathing and better supplements will transform. If you have tried everything else, and your high blood pressure persists,  you may  need to make some dramatic changes in what you do and how you do it--perhaps a new job is necessary, perhaps changes in your living circumstances. If you are honest with yourself, you will know what needs to be changed. The best place to start is with your own attitudes toward yourself and the world.

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Last modified: February 14, 2014