How can something we all do 23, 000 times a day and over 8 million times a year be so dysfunctional. Doesn’t practice make perfect?  Well when it comes to breathing there seems to be a disconnect. 

It has been said that 9 out 10 adults breathe incorrectly and if we believe science and all our ancient eastern healing modalities it is adversely affecting our health.

I have read in different Buddhist texts that if someone learns to breathe correctly they can cure all their health issues. Although I am not ready to make that claim, I do believe there is a lot to learn and benefit from proper breathing techniques/practices.

Proper breathing has been shown to help sleep, mental capabilities, reduce stress and inflammation, reduce pain and increase longevity.

Many studies suggest that one of the key reasons that it is so effective on our health is its positive effect on our autonomic nervous system.  This is the system that is responsible for our “fight or flight” (sympathetic system) or “rest and digest” (parasympathetic system) and these studies have demonstrated that breathing allows for a balancing of this system thus promoting relaxation, reduced stress via, among many things, reduced cortisol in our circulatory system.  When you take slow, steady breaths, your brain is signaled that all is OK and turns on the parasympathetic response, says Dr. Brown associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and co-author of “The Healing Power of the Breath”. But when you take shallow rapid breaths or hold your breath in an unfocused manner, the sympathetic response is triggered, Dr. Brown continued.

At the end of the day it is safe to say that a consistent practice of proper breathing techniques will help you feel better.  So if we are all doing it wrong or at least 90% of us – how do we get it right – well here is an exercise to start your “new campaign” of improving your health via breathing exercises.

4-7-8-1 Technique

This technique may be a bit ambitious for a “new breather” but it is a great one to learn, you can start with a simpler version and work up to the full technique.

1. In a lying down position (best to learn this way- can do in sitting too), place one hand on your belly (just below your rib cage) and the other on your chest.
2. Slowly breathe in, expanding your belly and then your chest on a count of 4 (in your head)
3. Hold for a count of 7.
4. Breathe out for a count of at least 8 thru pursed lips
5. Pause for 1 second – do nothing and honor the moment (if that works for you)
6. Then repeat
7. Work up to 5 rounds 2x per day

If you have any questions or issues with this article or want instructions on this or other breathing exercises or if you would like your breathing technique evaluated, feel free to reach out to me via e-mail or at my office – New York Physical Therapy,,, 212 488-7300. Best of health and keep breathing – but properly.

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