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In this section, learn how our breathing habits and patterns are shaped by experiences and our environment.


Our breathing behaviours are impacted and change in response to our experiences, environments, illness and traumas as we move through life. Over time we develop new habits and patterns.


Breathing behaviours and awareness

Throw in the pace and pressures of modern-day living and our breathing shifts to a far more restless and ineffective breathing behaviour, referred to as dysfunctional breathing or over breathing.


Did you know that these can change your breathing behaviours?


  • Traumatic events

  • Cold weather or heated environments

  • Environment and upbringing

  • Posture and sitting for long periods

  • Stress and fear

  • Wearing tight clothing

  • Sucking in our stomach or puffing out our chest

  • Unconscious breathing

Why is breathing awareness important?

When we start becoming aware of our breathing, we can observe patterns and behaviours, it starts the process of reconnecting back to our body, and we can start to feel or read the cues of any messages the body might be trying to tell us. We can observe any changes in our breathing pattern and it also provides stillness and can ‘get us out’ of our heads. Breath awareness is the important first step when exploring breathing better and breathwork.


When we start adding in consciousness breathing (breathwork) that's when great things can happen. 

Breathing when nervous, anxious or stressed


As we discovered in Section 2, when exploring our Automatic Nervous System and Vagus Nerve, how we breathe is a reflection of how we feel, and how we feel is a reflection of how we breathe. If you have not visited section 2 yet, please do. It provides lots of information which will give you insight into your system’s stress response.  


The stress from our hectic lives means that our breathing has become uneasy and restless, our body automatically changes how we breathe, and we start to breathe faster, shallower and into the upper chest area. Our body tenses and we may breathe through our mouth, or hold our breath.

did you know?

Have you ever noticed how your breathing and body change when you are anxious, stressed or nervous?

Over time, this more restless way of breathing becomes your unconscious daily breathing pattern. Even when stress does not appear to be present, your breathing and physiology have shifted to a more inefficient breathing habit, which as we know can cause a number of physical and mental health conditions.


Developed dysfunctional breathing behaviours

Dysfunctional breathing is an increasing concern and a major contributor to an abundance of physical and mental health concerns, in particular reports of depression, stress and anxiety levels are higher than they have ever been.


It is possible to tell a lot about what is going on with a person based on how they are breathing.

Possible signs and symptoms of dysfunctional breathing
  • Increased anxiety and stress

  • Poor sleep

  • Lack of concentration and hard to retain information

  • Feeling irritable, fatigued, low mood

  • Stress and Anxiety

  • Headaches

  • Sighing/yawning more than normal

  • Tight chest and feeling breathless

  • Panic attacks

Are you over breathing?

Many people believe that it is better to breathe more and that over-breathing would help the body by bringing in more oxygen. This is not the case, over breathing has no functional purpose and actually causes us more harm.

I'm better to breathe more, aren't I?

No, over-breathing can seriously impact physical and mental health.

You would think that breathing more would increase the oxygen levels in our body, which would be a good thing, however, this is not the case, and below we explain why.

We already maintain a level of oxygen in the body – this is called an oxygen saturation level and refers to the amount of oxygen in the blood. This happens because oxygen is constantly being moved from your blood into the cells to create energy, so oxygen remains in the body – a healthy person will have an oxygen saturation level of around 98%.


So, if you breathe more than you need to, there is no real functional purpose or benefit as the body cannot take in more oxygen – Think of it like trying to add more water to an already full cup!


Dysfunctional breathing plays havoc on the body and mind. Over breathing, into the chest is the most common breathing pattern we see, however, with the respiratory crisis we see unfolding, we see many different breathing patterns and habits. We have listed some of the most common ones below.


An overview of common breathing patterns

As we know, each and every one of us has our unique breathing pattern. We do not want to label anyone with a definitive breathing pattern, and your breathing may actually flit between certain patterns depending on your day and experience. However, we do find it helps to have an idea of patterns and habits so that you can start to recognise any that are not serving you well. 


Below are some of the most common types of breathing patterns we are finding today, and a brief insight into why this may happen. Click on each tab to learn more.

The breath pattern on inhalation
  • A movement starts in the upper chest and shoulders rise - there may be stiffness, or a sense of restriction to breathe fully

  • The abdomen may move slightly following the chest or does not move at all

  • You may feel tension or pain in your upper chest, back, neck and shoulders.

  • The breath is short and shallow


Cause: There is a link between chest breathing, anxiety and chronic stress or other physical ailments in the lower body causing chest breathing. Other causes can be anything from puffing your chest out or sucking your belly in to look slimmer or sitting down for long periods of time.


Effect: Your stomach muscles are often tensed, restricting movement for healthier breathing. This type of breathing often relies on secondary muscles, rather than using the diaphragm. Learning to breathe by engaging the diaphragm is required.

Common dysfunctional breathing behaviours

When we are not breathing well, we can also start to see some other common behaviours that occur when breathing, such as:


  • Over breathing – breathing fast and shallowly, into your chest and shoulders

  • Mouth breathing – using your mouth to breathe rather than your nose. This is common in those who are over-breathing, stressed and anxious

  • Controlled breathing – Breathing is rigid and not flowing, the breath is controlled and held onto, in particular, the exhale.

  • Tension breath holding – you may hold your breath when working, or sat at your computer, or when thinking, or feeling stressed


Have you ever been completing a task, or thinking about something only to realise that you are not breathing and that you are holding in your breath?  This is becoming an increasingly common behaviour when using computers!


All of these breathing behaviours are linked to stress and anxiety, and worryingly we do not realise, or notice when we do it.

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the solution


Breathing is the key to longevity

We know we have covered a lot of the not-so-great stuff! But it is to raise awareness of the impacts breathing can have. Breathing really is the key to longevity, and finding more peace and joy in life - for your everyday.


The great news is you already have the tool, it simply needs a little fine-tuning!


Just as those changes to our breathing patterns that now hinder us took place, we can start to reset, and change them back to a more natural breathing pattern again. We can also use breathing and breathwork techniques throughout our day to manage our emotional states, shift and clear anxiety, reduce stress, improve mood, health and mental wellbeing and much much more!


Hopefully, the Discovery Zone has sparked many 'ah haaaa' moments for you and has shown you how, and why, making small changes to your breathing pattern will make a huge difference to how you think and feel (and more)!

The need to develop a habit of breathing efficiently almost most of the time at the start is a step in the right direction and starting with just a few minutes a day, a few times a day will get you back on the right track.

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In section 5 learn more about breathwork and understand how it will help you in your everyday life.

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