Breathing Retraining & Capnography

We can live weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without breathing. Life starts with our first breathe and ends with our last, but between our first and last breathe few of us ever think of how often we breathe, how deeply we breathe, or how relevant breathing is to our state of health, to our state of being, to our performance abilities in sport, in life.

Breathing is fundamental to life, to health, to peak performance

Our respiratory system – breathing – is the single most important system as it is the system which has the ability to change our entire physiology in an instant. By changing how we breathe we change our physiology by changing our pH. The simple act of breathing can change our acid-base balance and with that everything changes in our body and our brain: the oxygenation of our body and brain, the conductivity of our nervous system, the sensitivity of our flight-fight-freeze emergency/survival system, our ability to digest food, our ability to sleep, the level of focus, concentration, our memory, and of course our physical abilities such as strength, endurance and speed.

When our lips or our finger nails go blue we can see that there isn’t enough oxygen going to these body parts, but we don’t see when our brain goes blue as a result of unhealthy breathing.

Without proper breathing, health is impossible.

Unhealthy breathing patterns – i.e. overbreathing – have been linked in numerous studies to: heart disease, pulmonary hypertension, cancer, diabetes, asthma, COPD, sleep apnea, hyperthyroidism, panic disorder, and bipolar disorder. With these diseases, patients breathe at least twice as much as what is required for normal healthy breathing. The error made is in the belief that more breathing is better, more breathing is healthier, that more breathing increases oxygenation. Fact is, just the opposite is true. Heavy breathing – i.e. overbreathing – reduces oxygenation to the tissues of the body as shown in the image above (i.e. the blue brain). If the brain becomes blue with overbreathing and its the most important organ in the body, then imagine how blue and oxygen deprived every other life sustaining organ is in your body.

Consider the amount of oxygen given during CPR: there is obviously less oxygen being blown into the person receiving mouth to mouth resuscitation than there is oxygen in ambient room air, yet there is more than enough oxygen coming out of the rescuer to save a life! We need far less air than we believe, which means we need to breathe (i.e. inhale & exhale) far less than we do for health, for performance.

Without proper breathing, peak performance is impossible.

If your brain – the most vital organ in your body – goes blue when you over-breathe, imagine how blue everything else goes. If your brain goes blue, then how much oxygen are your muscles getting? Everything that you are depending on as an athlete to deliver energy, movement, power, and performance is starving for oxygen if you breathe incorrectly while training, while racing. Yet instead of retraining breathing patterns for optimal oxygenation, athletes complain of heaviness, fatigue, lack of energy, and then on top of it all, digestive system issues never considering that how they breathe is sabotaging their ability to execute at their potential.

Overbreathing – i.e. unhealthy breathing – shuts down aerobic energy production decreasing cardiovascular endurance, peak power, max strength. With physical attributes diminished, cramping, spasms and side stitches are all potential side-effects, not to mention being unable to continue to compete. Overbreathing leads also to overheating accelerating dehydration and facilitating the flight-fight-freeze emergency/survival system of the body further consuming what little available energy is left in the athlete. Overbreathing changes the pH (acid-base) balance of the blood which causes vasoconstriction (i.e. narrowing of the blood vessels) throughout the body, hence the blue brain, hence blue muscles, hence blue everything!

Breathing changes and controls every aspect of health, of performance; yet we pay little to no attention to how we breathe. Breathing evaluations using capnography are available to TOEST & TOETT athletes.