Why Should We Breathe Better?

Why Should We Breathe Better?

Dr. Sapna Priyadarshi


You must have felt that the title is slightly strange: breathing better? Isn’t it one of the few things that gets done on its own and we do not have to bother about it! Why to complicate it? And why to even think about it?


But believe me, I have very strong reasons for using this heading. What if I told you that each one of have a fixed number of breaths in our account (read as lives). When our account balance becomes zero, that is the end of our life. Now if we breath fast and shallow, we consume our quota quickly leading to a shorter life and if we breathe slowly and deeply, we ca extend that quota over a longer period thus extending our lives.


Hope I have got some attention now! If you are an Amish Tripathi fan and have read his trilogy on Shiva, you will remember that he calls oxygen as the biggest poison for our body and that is the reason why it is retained in our body for the least time, as compared to food, water or other things that we consume. Survival experts apply the “rule of threes” to lasting without essentials. You can go about three weeks without food, three days without water, three hours without shelter, and only three minutes without air.


The reason for body not storing oxygen in excess is that oxygen leads to oxidation which in turn leads to aging, weakening of bones, wrinkles and related undesirable effects on the body. And that is why there is a huge shift to anti-oxidants like green tea, berries, kidney beans and other items.

But that does not mean that oxygen is not required. Oxygen is the most important ingredient of our life and we need it every moment. Anything so important, does deserve few moments of thought and understanding of the best way to do it.


If you noticed earlier, I said ‘fast and shallow’ and not only fast, because they are connected. Similarly, ‘slow and deep’ goes in tandem.

Let us understand the capacity of our lungs:

1. Tidal volume (0.5 lts): The volume of air moved into or out of the lungs during quiet breathing
2. Inspiratory reserve volume (2 lts): The maximal volume that can be inhaled from the end-inspiratory level
3. Expiratory reserve volume (1.5 lts): The maximal volume of air that can be exhaled from the end-expiratory position
4. Residual Volume (1.5 lts): The volume of air remaining in the lungs after a maximal exhalation


Maximum that can be respired = 0.5 lts (tidal volume) + 2 lts (inspiratory reserve volume) + 1.5 lts (expiratory reserve volume) = 4 lts


This is eight times the volume of 0.5 lts of air that we normally inhale and exhale. Most people while sitting breathe less than half a litre of air and so their lung usage is actually less than one eighth of the capacity. This means that we are giving our lungs much lesser air than what it can take, removing it too fast and allowing residual air (which has done its job and should be expunged) to stay inside our lungs for far too long.


The air we breathe contains oxygen and other gases. Once in the lungs, oxygen is moved into the bloodstream and carried through the body. At each cell in the body, oxygen gets exchanged for carbon-di-oxide (CO2), which is a waste gas. Our bloodstream then carries this CO2 back to the lungs where it is transferred to the air waiting in the lungs and then exhaled. Our lungs automatically perform this vital process and complicated process between every inhalation and exhalation, without our awareness. Now, if we breathe deeper and slower, not only will we be providing more air and hence more oxygen for our body but also give it more time to get absorbed and carbon-di-oxide to be returned and expunged.

Let us now delve into the methods of breathings and how we can improve our breathing.


1. Abdominal – This is breathing through the diaphragm muscle, which is present below the lung separating it from the abdomen. It contracts and expands to inhale and exhale air in the lungs. On every inhale the diaphragm muscle is designed to lower, minimizing the space in the abdominal cavity, enlarging the chest cavity, allowing the lungs to expand and inhale. This is why the belly pushes out with an inhale and why this is sometimes referred to as belly breath. This is the best form of breathing as it draws in greatest amount of air for least muscular effort. It is often restricted by tight belts and clothing which restricts the movement of the belly outwards.


2. Thoracic – This form of breathing is achieved by movement of the ribs. The ribcage expands upwards and outwards by muscular contraction the lungs expand and inhale. This technique can’t take inhale as much air as abdominal method.


3. Clavicular – The top of each lung is above the collar bone, or clavicle. In this method, breathing is done by raising the shoulders and collarbone. This method requires much effort for little output since very little air can be inhaled and exhaled as the movement cannot change the volume of the chest cavity very much. Women often restrict themselves to this form of breathing by wearing tight brassieres, corsets and belts which restrict the abdominal and thoracic breathing.


Now, the best breathing technique is the combination of all three, as we want to take in as much air in our lungs as possible and we must use every possible method to do so. Inhale slowly by allowing your abdomen to expand. At the end of the abdominal expansion, start to expand your chest outwards and upwards. At the end of this movement, draw your collarbone and shoulders towards your heard. This completes the inhalation process. The whole process should be a continuous one with each phase of breathing merging with the next phase seamlessly. Hold your breath for one to two seconds and then start exhaling. For exhaling, first relax your collarbone and shoulders. Then allow your chest to move, first downwards and then inwards. After this allow the abdomen to contract. Try to empty the lungs as much as possible by pulling the abdominal wall as near as possible to the spine. We follow the LIFO (Last In First Out) principle here.


The best way to master this technique is to build up little by little. The lung’s capacity starts to expand, and as a consequence our mind becomes calmer and more focussed. After some practice, the whole process will happen automatically and effortlessly. Learning to master exhalation is more tough as compared to inhalation. During inhalation, the mind is calmer and one can hold the breath longer without experiencing any discomfort. However, during exhalation there is a natural urge to exhale in a burst and then inhale immediately. When this natural tendency calms down and we are able to breathe anywhere from 1 to 4 times per minute, we will experience what is called the meditative state.


Dr. Sapna Priyadarshi


The author is Founder Director of Yo.Fit, a wellness Institute dealing with Yoga, Meditation and Fitness. She is an expert in Yoga, Meditation and Reiki. For any assistance, you can reach her at sapna.yofit@gmail.com or 9677718795.