Breathing patterns determine the physiologic response in the cardiovascular and autonomic nervous system (ANS). Specifically, the physiologic and biochemical response is driven by the length, depth & pace of our breathing and whether we’re mouth breathing or nasal breathing.
We are all born nasal breathers. Every animal on earth breathes thru its nose unless it’s hunting or being hunted. For optimal human performance, nasal breathing is the most optimal form of respiration not only for fitness and high-end athletic performance; but also, for our overall health and wellbeing.
Understand the importance of nasal breathing versus mouth breathing as it relates to physiology and heart rates.
Explore the role of your inhale and exhale as it relates to autonomic balance within the nervous system.
Review a basic breathing technique to begin your transition from mouth breathing to nasal breathing.
The Importance of Your Breathing Pattern
Let’s begin by understanding the importance of the length, depth and pace of our breathing pattern.
The length of our inhale and exhale dictates the response between our heart and brain. The longer and slower the inhale, the less sympathetic (or cooler) its response. The longer and slower the exhale, the greater improvement of Heart Rate Variability (HRV) health, which is the study of the intervals between consecutive heart beats. The fields of neuroscience and, specifically, neurocardiology have revealed some amazing research on the significant relationship between the autonomic nervous system and cardiovascular mortality (Fan, Ko, Lee, Xu, & Lee, 2011).
The depth of breath determines the level of the diaphragmatic movement downward on inhales and upward on exhales. Most of us are mouthing shallow breathers never really engaging the diaphragm in much of the breathing process.
The pace of the inhale and exhale set in motion brain wave activity, HRV and our primary source of energy whether it be fat or sugar. We want to be taking the least amount of breaths per minute for optional health and performance (Novotny, 2007).
Inhale Versus Exhale
Now let’s explore the differences between our inhale and exhale. Our inhale raises the heart rate and is based in the sympathetic branch of ANS. This branch’s primary energy source is cortisol and adrenaline (or heat).
Our exhale lowers our heart rate and is based in the parasympathetic branch of ANS. It’s meant to dominantly be a cooling breath; however, it can produce heat with a fast exhale. This branch’s primary energy source (or hormone) is serotonin and cools the heat of the inhale. The heating and cooling elements of our breathing process is what keeps our body temperature at 98.6 degrees.