I’ve long suspected that I have some kind of breathing problem. Nothing that would be described as a problem by a doctor, but something I regularly notice.
Even though I’m in reasonable shape, I lose my breath quickly in physical exercise. If you were to play me at squash for example, I’d be panting after a few minutes. But by the end of the 40 minutes I’d be okay, and probably able to play a double session. Because I’m determined, I suspect I’ve learned to cope with this over the years.
I also have spells where I feel like a can’t quite get a full breath, and sigh occasionally to compensate.
I accept there may be other factors feeding into these symptoms, but the obvious culprit (stress) has never felt right to me. Barring one or two brief periods, I’m not a very stressed person.
According to Patrick McKeown, overbreathing could be the main cause. In the opening of his book The Oxygen Advantage, you’re asked the following questions to determine whether you’re overbreathing:
- Do you sometimes breathe through your mouth as you go through your daily activities?
- Do you breathe through your mouth during sleep?
- Do you snore or hold your breath during sleep?
- Can you visibly notice your breathing during rest?
- When you observe your breathing, do you see more movement from the chest than the abdomen?
- Do you regularly sigh throughout the day?
- Do you experience nasal congestion, fatigue or dizziness?
For me, and answer to all those questions was at least a partial ‘yes’.
The key idea in The Oxygen Advantage is that your body needs carbon dioxide to absorb and use oxygen. When you overbreathe you lose carbon dioxide, creating the need for bigger breaths and sighs.
Your blood is almost always saturated with oxygen. So taking deep breaths to get more oxygen into your blood is actually a misunderstanding.
If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you’ll know this to be true. The harder you breathe, the harder it becomes to catch your breath.
According to McKeown, the answer is to breathe less. Because breathing is an autonomous action not regularly under conscious control, you have to reset your body’s tolerance to carbon dioxide. Nasal breathing and breath holds are examples of ways to do this.
Which is counter-intuitive, I know. Hold your breath to get more oxygen into your cells. How weird.
I’ve been experimenting with McKeown’s exercises, and so far the results have been good. I’ve stopped sighing, at least. And I’m learning to breathe through my nose more, which automatically throttles your breathing.
I’ll report back in a few months. But if this resonates with you at all, this is strongly recommended reading.
P.S. Marketing lessons? I think this illustrates that:
- The most obvious answers are usually under your nose (literally, in this case)
- You can always get people’s attention (and get them to read entire books) if you can accurately describe the symptoms of a problem they’re facing