Most people are looking for the easiest way to be healthy with the biggest bang for their buck. They try a free week of yoga here, a vegan diet there. All the while missing the answer that is right under there nose, literally. Breathing is one of the greatest keys to unlocking ones superior health, and it doesn't cost a penny. At this point in time, breath training is becoming more mainstream and people are starting to catch wind of many different types of breathing techniques. The question now becomes, who is teaching the right kind of breathing?
Yoga and Qigong are disciplines that have been perfecting breath for thousands of years, but not every Yoga/Qigong teacher is created equal. The average Yoga instructor in the US teaches to take a “deep” breath without really explaining what they mean. So when their students listen to what they say they may end up doing something that is counterintuitive to their own practice. Some of them will suck in a big gulp of air through their mouth until their lungs are about to burst and then they relax and bellow out a gust of wind. Then they roll up their mat and smugly high-five their neighbor thinking they have done their body a huge service. They may be surprised to find out that they haven't helped their body out in the slightest, they may have even done some harm.
This is not to say that doing Yoga is a bad thing, quite the contrary, real Yoga is one of the most ingenious activities that human beings ever came up with. The danger of Yoga lies in the instruction. To highlight my point I want you to put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly button. Take what you would consider a normal breath in through your mouth and note where your body fills up. You may have noticed that your chest swelled up like a balloon and your belly stayed relatively still. Next, I want you to take a normal breath in through your nose and see which part fills up first. You may notice that your abdomen rises and falls much easier when the breath is focused through the nostrils. Although the mouth allows more air into your lungs at a faster rate, respiration is not a quantity over quality activity. The quality of the air coming in through your mouth is greatly impaired when its compared with nasal air quality. The nose performs many important functions, Dr. Maurice Cottle, who founded the American Rhinologic Society in 1954 said: “your nose performs at least 30 functions, all of which are important supplements to the roles played by the lungs, heart, and other organs”. (Timmons B.H., Ley R. Behavioral and Psychological Approaches to Breathing Disorders. 1st ed. Springer; 1994) Some of those functions include: warming the air entering your lungs (which makes the air less irritating) and cleaning the air contents so that you can limit your chances of becoming sick by breathing in pathogens that are in the air. So before you puff out your chest and open your mouth wide, I want you to think about the type of air thats coming in and how much work your lungs have to do to use it.
The main take-away of this article is very simple: breath through your nose and breathe deep in the real sense of the word. Deep just means far from the top. If we are considering your nose to be the top of your breathing apparatus, each breath should happen at least at the base of your ribcage. Don't raise your shoulders, don't open your chest up. Just let the air in passively and let it do what it does best... keep you alive.