How Healthy Is Your Breathing?

September 29, 2023

by Dr. Andrew Weil

Unless you have a breathing disorder or a yoga instructor is leading you through a breathing exercise, you may give little thought to how you breathe. But consciously regulating your breathing can neutralize stress, lower blood pressure, and improve digestion, among other health benefits. I encourage you to check in with your breath throughout the day to detect bad habits and adopt healthier ones. I’ll describe four breathing blunders and offer solutions.

Upper-chest breathing. Emotional stress can tighten muscles throughout the body, including your chest. This can limit the ability of your lungs to expand fully when you inhale, so you take rapid, shallow breaths that fill only the upper half of your lungs, and less oxygen gets delivered to the body.
Remedy: Breathe abdominally. When you breathe in, you want your belly to expand rather than your chest. Place a hand on your abdomen and take a slow, deep breath, imagining that your belly is a balloon you’re filling with air. Feel your hand rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. With practice, you can train yourself to breathe from the abdomen most of the time, even when you’re asleep.

Irregular and noisy breathing. When you are feeling angry, tense, or upset, your breathing is certain to become more rapid, shallow, noisy, and irregular. This sort of inefficient respiration reduces the amount of oxygen you take in and can heighten your distress.
Remedy: Make your breathing slower, deeper, quieter, and more regular whenever you think of it. This is a simple way to promote relaxation, and making these subtle changes may greatly enhance your ability to level out an uneven mood or deal with upsetting situations. It’s impossible to be upset when your breathing is slow, deep, quiet, and regular.

Insufficient exhalation.
If you watch people breathe, you’ll see that most of them use effort to inhale but none to exhale. As a result, exhalation is usually passive and takes less time than inhalation. When you breathe this way, you don’t move nearly as much air in and out of your lungs as you could.
Remedy: Squeeze out more air. Try taking a deep breath, letting it out effortlessly, and then pushing more air out of the lungs. You should feel the effort in the intercostal muscles between your ribs. Try to make your exhalation as long as or slightly longer than inhalation. Whenever you think of it, practice this technique of extending exhalation.

Mouth breathing.
It’s best to breathe through your nose. The hairs that line the nostrils help cleanse the air you take in by filtering out dust and dirt particles. When you breathe through your mouth, you may take in large volumes of air very quickly, which some breathing experts say can upset the correct balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. And my mentor, osteopathic physician Robert Fulford, believed air must contact the sensory nerves in the nose in order to stimulate the brain and promote optimal functioning of the nervous system.
Remedy: Close your mouth. If chronic sinus problems keep you from breathing through your nose, get proper treatment. I have also found that working with a practitioner of cranial osteopathy can be helpful for disordered breathing patterns.

For more, listen to my recording Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing. To order, visit or call (888) 337-9345.

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