5 Aspects to the Optimal Resting Breath Wave

athlete resting breath

You have a natural breathing pattern when you are at complete rest and it is called the Optimal Resting Breath Wave. There are 5 Aspects to the Optimal Resting Breath Wave [ORBW]. It is a breath pattern that is to be felt, rather than quantified. It is low and slow. It is so silent you can hardly notice it and it is best summed up by Lao Tzu, the famous ancient Chinese Philosopher, when he said:

“The Perfect Man Breathes as if he is not Breathing”

Did you ever watch a baby breathe?

sleeping baby girlWe have a 6 month old baby girl. Juliette is her name. It is amazing to see her breathe. My wife often gets a fright because when she asleep it looks like she is not breathing at all! She breathes exactly as Lao Tzu had described the perfect breath.
Laurie McLoughlin put some meat on that description in the book “Recognizing and Treating Breathing Disorders”. She succinctly intertwined the modern knowledge of science with ancient philosophical wisdom into 5 simple principles .
These principles describe the ORBW, the perfect resting breath. They are:

Breathe with your Nose.
Breathe Low into your stomach with your diaphragm.
Breathe Slow. Reduce the rate of your breathing.
Let Go on exhale. The exhale is passive. There is no muscular contraction, like letting air out of a balloon.
Breathe Quiet and reduce the volume of your breathing.

1. Breathe with your Nose

“The nose is for breathing [as] the mouth is for eating”

Indian Proverb

Anatomically, both the nose and the mouth link into your throat and down into your stomach and lungs.

But does that mean that you should confuse which vent to breathe and to eat from? Let’s see, how about you think about the simplicity of this one principle by reversing it.

If you tried to eat food through your nose and breathe through your mouth what would happen?

You’d starve yourself of nutrients because the nose can’t breakdown food.
You’d destroy your gut because you don’t break food down in the nose which leaves the gut all the work to do.
You’d lose the sense of taste because there are no taste buds in your nose.
You’d look kinda silly because you’re stuffing food into your nose!

Can you see how silly a habit this would be?

Well the same could be said for breathing through your mouth. When you mouth breathe

You lose one of your five physical senses – you can’t smell the roses.
You develop dysfunctions of the throat and lungs because the air isn’t prepared for the body. Things like adenoids, polyps, tonsillitis, allergies, coughs, colds, asthma, anxiety, insomnia and heart disease to name a few.
You narrow your face structure instead of having a more square face.
You require more dental work like extractions, braces and fillings.
You end up with forward head posture, rounded shoulders, poor posture and a bad back.

2. Breathe Low

When we breathe low, we are diaphragm or belly breathing. This is Laurie’s second principle of good breathing. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case in anybody that has a breathing pattern disorder.

The most common mechanical error in breathing is the constant use of high breathing, also known as clavicular or chest breathing.

When you inhale in a high-breathing pattern you end up shrugging your shoulders.

Long term use of this pattern results in poor air supply to the lower lobes of the lungs. When the there’s no air getting into these areas, the lungs become an easy breeding ground for bacteria and disease to spread.

Yogi Ramacharaka, in “The Hindu-Yogi Science of Breathing” book, written pre-1903, said that low breathing is only the first part of a good mechanical breathing pattern.

He likens filling up your lungs with air to filling a cup of water.

When you pour water into a cup, the water falls to the bottom first. As the water continues to pour into the cup, the cup fills up, section by section, until it is overflowing.

glass of water
And so it is with breathing.

When you inhale air, the air should travel low into the lungs first (this will push the tummy out slightly). As more air is drawn in, the lungs begin to fill from the bottom up. The lower ribs expand and finally the upper chest rises.

Yogi Ramacharaka also said that this style of breathing can be performed breathing a minimal amount of air (you don’t have to maximize every compartment). So on a resting breath, the breath will travel low first, the stomach will distend a little, the ribs will then flare a little and the chest will rise a fraction.

3. Breathe Slow

Breathing rate is usually measure in breaths per minute. It is known that the higher your breathing rate, the more likely you are to develop a lifestyle disease.
People with heart disease, sleep apnoea, asthma, diabetes and panic disorder are known to breathe up to 16 litres of air per minute.
According to the medics, we should only breathe 4-6 litres of air per minute. That’s about 8-14 breaths per minute
Even at that rate, I would contend we are over-breathing for optimal health.
Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Gerbarg and her husband Dr. Brown would back me up. For 10 years, they have done a huge amount of research on breathing rates, heart function and brain function. They found that a breathing rate of 4-6 breaths per minute at rest synchronizes the lungs, the heart and the brain.
The take home point is this….Breathe Slower
The slower your resting breath, the healthier you become.

4. Let Go on Exhale

The exhale is designed to be passive!
Like a balloon, you fill the lungs up with air and then “aaahhhhhh, let it go”. The lungs deflate just the same as a balloon will deflate when you release the neck of it.
Exhalation works as a recoil mechanism.
Only when you are forcing your breathe do you require muscular contraction but this is not what we need for the ORBW.

5. Breathe Quiet

Breathing quietly characterizes complete control over your breath and your health. The you breathe, the more at rest your body has become.

The lungs are at ease.
The heart and vascular system are at rest.
The nervous system has a high parasympathetic tone.
Metabolism has slowed.
Food has been processed.

According to Qi Gong Master Chris Pei, as quoted by Patrick McKeown in “The Oxygen Advantage”, there are three levels of breathing:

The first one is that you breathe so softly so your neighbour can not hear you.
The second level is that you breathe so softly that you do not hear yourself breathe.
The third level is that you breathe softly so you cannot feel yourself breathe.

Or as Ancient Taoists would teach.

[Breathe] “so smooth that the fine hairs within the nostrils remain motionless”

Do The Opposite

 

breathe hard after workout

Think of a time you were killing it in training, how did you breathe?
In and out of your mouth I bet.
It was loud as hell
Your shoulders were shrugging and your chest heaving
It was fast
And it was big
Of course it was. You were working hard and you were exhausted.

This is the exact opposite of a rested breath.

The resting breath is not something that can be quantified, but it is best described by the shape and form of its wave –

The Optimal Resting Breath Wave
Breathe in and out of the nose
Breathe Low
Breathe Slow
Breathe to Let Go on the Exhale
And Breathe Quiet

References

Brown, R. And Gerbarg, P., (2012) The Healing Power of Breath. Shambhala Publications.

Chaitow, L., Bradley, D. & Gilbert, C., (2014) Recognizing and Treating Breathing Disorders. A Multidisciplinary Approach. 2nd Ed. Elsevier

McKeown, P., (2015) The Oxygen Advantage. Piatkus

Ramacharaka (1903). The Hindu-Yogi Science of Breath

Leo Daniel Ryan

For 10 years I have dedicated my professional life to coaching clients and personal trainers to achieve their goals. I have worked at the highest levels of industry in both Ireland and Canada.