Functional breathing involves breathing in and out through the nose. The breath is light, with no audible effort, with the breathing movement seen mainly in the abdomen (the diaphragm is involved). There is on average 10 to 12 breaths per minute. Dysfunctional breathing looks and sounds different. It is generally upper chest breathing, often through the mouth and often audible. The person may not be able to take a satisfying breath, be more breathless during rest or physical exercise, frequently yawn or sigh, or have the feeling of not getting enough air.
Irregular breathing is also a feature of poor breathing patterns. However, breathing patterns in these individuals can also be regular from time to time which makes detection difficult. During sleep, breathing is noisy, irregular, with intermittent snoring and mouth breathing and the person wakes up with a dry mouth. It is estimated that about 9% of the population have dysfunctional breathing and are chronically overbreathing.
Chronic overbreathing means that we habitually breathe more air than our bodies actually need. There are many reasons chronic overbreathing may happen. These include strong emotions, on- going stress, time urgency, tension, anger, anxiety, overeating, processed food, lack of exercise and a belief that taking bigger breaths is good for you.
Over breathing is the body’s normal response to stress. The body goes into the “fight or flight” mechanism meaning rapid shallow breathing to get the body into a readiness mode for the imminent danger. However, once the threat is over, we should return to normal breathing. If exposed to long term stress, we may continue to over breath, even long after the initial threat is gone. This new breathing pattern then becomes habitual and can cause seemingly unrelated problems such as chest pain, cold hands and feet, dizziness, IBS, muscle pain, migraines, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks.