How Not to Breathe and The Dangers of Holding Your Breath

A fascinating view of breathing is obtained by watching those who are healthy and the contrasting your findings with those who are unhealthy. When you watch an infant sleeping, it is easy to determine that it breathes using primarily the diaphragm by watching the abdomen rise and fall. Two scientist, Alan Hymes M.D and Phil Nuernberger Ph.D instructed primary-care nurses in an intensive coronary unit of a large hospital in Minneapolis to determine how patients were breathing. They surveyed 153 patients divided into two categories — those who had suffered heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI), documented by blood test and cardiogram; and a second group suspected of having heart attack (NMI), but found to have no destruction of cardiac tissue. The result were as follows:

1. All patients (100 percent) were habitual thoracic breather, no diaphragmatic motion was detectable;

2. Approximately 75 percent of all patients were chronic mouth breathers; 70 percent of these also exhibited open- mouthed snoring; 84 percent of the MI group who snored exhibited patterns of apnea, involuntary pauses of six second or more; and 48 percent of the NMI group who snored exhibited patterns of apnea.

The authors suggested that ” it may be that teaching the patient simple diaphragmatic breathing should be an integral pattern of the treatment process. Altering the thoracic pattern to diaphragmatic breathing could increase the efficeincy of ventilation/perfusion, resulting in a decrease in the amount of work required by the cardio-pulmonary system. This could help reduce the strain on the heart. Their findings are consistent with earlier research, which found that “hypertension and heart disease are more common in heavy snorers than in normal subjects.

Of particular interest is the relationship of apnea to health. During the survey “six patients who were part of the observed MI group died during the survey period. Every one of the six patients exhibited long, sustained periods of apnea lasting 30 seconds or longer, 24 to 48 hours priors to death. Again, it is not yet as clear as to whether apnea is contributing or a resultant factor.

The Danger of Holding Your Breath During Exercise

“It is dangerous to hold your breath during any form of exercise,” writes Michael O’Shea. ” As you inhale and exhale, the pressure in your chest cavity increases and decreases. When you exercise and breathing heavier, these pressure changes are even greater. When you hold your breath, you do not allow for the natural release of this pressure, and stress on your heart and circulatory system can elevate blood pressure two to three times above normal. This can result inruptured blood vessels, stroke or heart attack,!”

In Yoga practice, as in any unfamiliar activity, it is common to hold your breath due to the concentration involved. This should not be encouraged. For beginners, one major value of teacher is to encourage full conscious respiration during all yoga activities. Once the student has spent about a year with the practice, there are exercises that can be given to allow for the natural pause between respiratory motions to be gently increased. This practice should be supervised and, in general, done only with the coordination of muscular locks to regulate blood pressure and heart rate. The side effect cited above can be alleviated with proper supervision. In general, however, it is advisable not to hold your breath during Yoga practices of asana or pranayama. The muscular locks (Bandhas) may appear easy to learn, but their proper development requires physiscal supervision by a teacher trained in their physical and energetic benefits.

Resource: Michael O’Shea, Ph.D., “Fitness,” Parade Magazine