Breathing is an extremely important part of our health, yet we pay little attention to making sure that we are doing it correctly. Breathing impacts the performance of many of the systems in our body. Learning to breathe correctly can help us relax, sleep better, improve our athletic performance, and generally improve our health and wellness.
Breath training has been shown in many studies to help reduce snoring and sleep apnea episodes, reduce stress, hay fever symptoms and the intensity of asthma attacks. It can even support nicotine withdrawal. Each of these benefits requires different training methods suited to individual needs.
Humans are unique among mammals in that we can modify our breathing voluntarily. This ability is believed to have evolved as we developed language capabilities. There are at least two breathing control centers in the brain; one is located in the motor cortex allowing voluntary control, a second near the brain stem takes over automatically when we are asleep or not paying attention to our breathing.
Our brain continually updates its internal connections and functions as needs change. This is called neuroplasticity. It has been long known that if we change our breathing even for a short time, say by breathing slower, the effect continues long after we stop the voluntary intervention. In order to make more sustained changes, we need to lay down new automatic control pathways in our brain by repeating exercises for several weeks while focusing on our breathing techniques. Neuroplastic changes are often described as “if you don’t use it, you lose it”, so it is important to be persistent with the exercises.
Using the voluntary breathing center when awake, we can re-program the automatic control pathways in our brain to improve our sleep breathing patterns, or increase breathing efficiency during the day, for example.