We don’t think about breathing.

It is one of those processes that happens automatically in our body and requires no thought or effort like our heart beat.


Unfortunately because we don’t have to think about it, we don’t think about it and yet putting some work into how we breathe is one of most transformative and rewarding things we can do.

But why I hear you say. Life is busy enough, why waste time focusing on something that happens whether I focus on it or not?

Let’s start with some science about how our breathing is controlled.

Science of the breath

Our central nervous system is in control of our breathing. It receives signals from our brain and in particular the vagus nerve which sits at the base of our skull in our neck. You know the feeling of hairs standing up on the back of your neck ? That’s the vagus nerve doing its thing.

There are two sides to our central nervous system. Both sides are vital to healthy life but as you will discover, modern life has sent us all out of balance.

Sympathetic nervous system

Whoever named this was having a bit of a laugh I think. This is our “fight or flight” response which doesn’t sound very sympathetic to me. This is ancient wiring in our lizard brain that regulates how we respond to danger.

Think about our evolution, we were not always the dominant species, early humans were hunted and had to be able to respond to danger instantly and optimally. Our fight or flight response is exactly that. Activating this side of the nervous system causes our body to prepare for battle or run from danger. Heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, adrenaline and norepinephrine are pumped out from the adrenal medulla, hormones such as oestrogen, testosterone and cortisol are released and a state of alertness and preparedness comes over us. This is amazing and potentially life saving if you are being attacked or need to escape from an aggressor or wild animal however its not hugely useful if this system is triggered because someone wrote something nasty about you on social media.  

And there’s our problem. Our ancient wiring designed to keep us alive is now being used on arguing with your partner, having a crappy day at work, social media, kids playing up and everything else that modern life has given us.

End result? We are stressed, tired, flooding our bodies with cortisol and other chemicals that keep us in the sympathetic nervous system which in turn leads to poor sleep, gut issues and frankly just makes life harder work and not much fun. Every ying has its yang and in this case it is the….…

Parasympathetic nervous system

If its a family Christmas dinner and your hyperactive nephew who has had way too much sugar is your sympathetic nervous system, then your chilled out uncle who is now asleep in the corner after dinner and oblivious to the world is your parasympathetic nervous system. This is your “rest and digest” response and this is where you want your body to be the vast majority of the time. 

In this state your heart rate and blood pressure reduces, your body releases chemicals to help you relax and digest food and you will feel calmer and more relaxed. Sleep comes easier and will be deeper and more refreshing. 

The problem is our over busy, over stressed, over worried, under rested bodies are spending way too much time in the wrong side of our nervous system. This is a uniquely modern problem. Our lives are thankfully without much actual danger so we have substituted the detritus of modern life in its place and we simply have lost the ability to truely relax as we are over stimulating our brains with streaming, social media and the internet. 

What a mess we have made, how can we fix this?

Conscious breathing 

Taking control through conscious breathing

The answer is deceptively simple but simple does not mean easy. If we become aware of our breath and how we are breathing we can correct it and take control over our Vegus nerve and thus our central nervous system. The challenge here is simply that because breathing is unconscious we don’t think we can control it when the very opposite is true and by practicing conscious breathing we will gradually take back control of our nervous system.

So how to start?

This can seem daunting at first but in reality it’s like eating an elephant, just take little bites and you be surprised how much you have eaten.

Nasal breathing

This may come as a shock to many people but your mouth is not designed for you to breathe through. When you breathe through your mouth all manner of bad things happen.

  • You over breathe
  • You breathe shallow
  • You breathe too fast
  • You breathe in air which is the wrong temperature
  • You unbalance your blood PH
  • You unbalance your oxygen/co2 levels
  • You damage your teeth and gums
  • You dry your mouth out
  • At night mouth breathing leads to snoring, sleep apnea and generally poor sleep
  • This list is almost endless by the way

Your nose and the sinus system it connects with is nothing less than a miracle of design.

Breathing through your nose corrects all of the issues shown above with mouth breathing as well as a host of other benefits including;

  • Utilising nitric oxide which is produced in your sinuses and helps to disinfect your nasal and sinus system from respiratory issues (might be helpful now maybe)
  • Nitric oxide is also a vasodilator and helps your lungs breath deeper into your abdomen
  • Breathing nasally also reduces the volume of air breathed and naturally reduces the pace of breathing
  • Nasal breathing humidifies and warms the air entering the lungs
  • It increases the air flow to veins ,arteries and nerves
  • Basically nasal breathing rules.

So now we have established that nasal breathing is the way forward I guess the question to ask is why we don’t nasal breathe naturally anymore?

Well some people do but I would estimate that at least 50% of the population are mouth breathers and there are many reasons for this;

  • Nasal blockage — many people (myself included) have noses that are blocked through being broken or just not being used. Surgery helped me and that may be an option.
  • Use it or lose it — if you mouth breathe because your nose feels congested it will just get more congested. The nasal system is like a muscle that needs exercise, if you stop using it then it will atrophy and get worse and worse.
  • Cultural acceptance — mouth breathing has just been accepted as the norm whilst there is plenty of evidence that civilisations going back thousands of years recognised that nasal breathing was the way we should be breathing.
  • Evolution – the shape of our face and jaw has changed dramatically in the last thousand years. The theory behind this is that our diet changed as we became more advanced and we learnt how to cook therefore we ate more soft foods and chewed much less. This has resulted in a narrowing of the jawline, reduced space in our mouth and an over crowding of teeth in the smaller jaw. Comparison with skeletons from the last 500 years shows just how much the shape of our face has changed. 


Breathwork (section 3)

This is becoming a real buzzword and is thrown about with different meanings and interpretations. For me I see breathwork as encompassing two parts, breath practice and conscious breathing.

Breath practice

When I talk about having a breath practice I am talking about having a daily practice , usually first thing when you wake where you will spend maybe 15-30 minutes focusing on breathing. This may or may not include mindfulness and meditation and might involve using a style of breath work such as Wim Hoff (I have been doing this for over two years now), or it might just be sitting or laying somewhere peaceful and focussing on your breath for a while. I view this as a way of setting myself up for the day and use it as a mini meditation and a chance to give gratitude and manifest my future. The breath hold part of breathing styles such as Wim Hoff can be very powerful and have been studied and found to have some profound effects on blood chemistry and how the body tolerates co2 which for a long time has been viewed as a bad thing (it can be) , but also is essential for our survival and how we tolerate it has been shown to be a reflection of how efficient and optimal our breathing is.

There are an infinite amount of different breath practices with many different styles including holotropic breathing, yoga style pranayama breathing, tummo breathing and many others. Try a few different ones and see what works for you. Ultimately I think this is a personal choice and you will find a style that resonates with you best.

Conscious breathing

Much as I love having a daily breath practice and will continue with it forever , it is actually conscious breathing that will have the most profound effect on your mental and physical health.

If you think about it a breath practice might be for maybe 15 or 30 minutes or even an hour. That still leaves a big part of the day where you are undoing all the good work from your breath practice.

So what is conscious breathing? In its simplest terms it is exactly that, being aware of how you are breathing at any given point of the day . This sounds simple and easy doesn’t it?

Ok , let’s go. Stop what you are doing.

  • How fast are you breathing? Count breaths for 20 seconds then times three for your breaths per minute.
  • Are you breathing through your nose, mouth or both?
  • Where is your breath going into? Can you feel your breath down in your abdomen or just your upper chest? Put one hand on your belly and one on your chest and feel the breath.
  • Do you feel like you are breathing heavily or lightly? Can you hear your breathing? This is a good indication.
  • Whats your stress level at the moment? On a scale of 1-10 write down your stress level.

So let’s look at what optimal breathing looks like and compare it to where you are at.

  • Breaths per minute — human beings perform optimally with their nervous system in balance at six times per minute, yes that’s one inhale and exhale every ten-seconds. Most people breathe somewhere between 10 and 18 times per minute. If you are asthmatic or have anxiety or other stress related issues you might breath as high at 20-30 breaths per minute.
  • It is simply impossible to breathe optimally at a breath rate this high and breathing this fast just stokes the fires of anxiety and breathlessness.
  • Nasal breathing — as I talked about earlier nasal breathing is where it is at. If you are mouth breathing you are not breathing functionally or optimally. If you have a job where you talk a lot then it is even more important that when you are not talking you are breathing through your nose.
Diaphragmatic breathing 

Your diaphragm is truely an amazing thing. Unfortunately most of us have dispensed with using it to breathe deeply into our abdomen and just breathe in a shallow , rapid fashion into our upper chest. All we are really doing is topping up a water bottle that is already half full and we are never breathing deeply into our abdomen. By breathing deeply we actually slow our breathing down, utilise our lungs more efficiently and start to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which relaxes us.

Light breathing

Unless you are physically exerting yourself your breathing should be almost undetectable to anyone else , quiet and gentle. In reality most of us are gasping for air, sighing, taking over exaggerated deep breaths to calm us down which actually has the opposite effect. Once you become obsessed with breathwork like me you will find yourself doing a breathing assessment on everyone you meet. Try it, by doing this it will make you more attuned to your own breathing.


Nothing will jack your breathing up like stress. Stress surrounds us these days, we have done an amazing job of making ourselves stressed and miserable and our breathing is both symptom and cure. There are many strategies to reduce stress in your life but let’s focus on one that is free, effective and abundant , the breath.

Breathing exercises 

As a Buteyko method breath instructor I have learnt many different techniques using the breath to help a myriad of physical and mental issues. All of these are built around the principle of Light, Slow, Deep breathing. Let’s refer to it as LSD breathing.


Undetectable, silent, gentle breath


Ten-seconds per breath, four-seconds inhale nasally , six-seconds exhale nasally, six times per minute.


Breathing into the abdomen, up into the ribcage, finishing in the chest and back.

LSD breathing will transform your life.

If you already breathe well the difference will be smaller but if your breathing is really dysfunctional I would be brave enough to say that it is the number one thing you can do to improve your mental and physical health (apart from stopping smoking obviously).


Exercise 1 – taking control throughout the day

Set an alarm on your phone or watch to repeat every two hours from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed.

During the day every time the alarm goes off I want you take an inventory of your breathing. Is it nasal? It is LSD? And if not take corrective action. Centre yourself , sit up straight, inhale nasally for a count of four then exhale nasally for a count of six, do this for three to five minutes and then carry on. You can literally do this anywhere, the office, car or at home. This is the start of being aware of your breath. It may help you to keep a breath diary for a few weeks, build up a picture of what is driving your breathing issues and then we can set about fixing them.

Exercise 2 – preparing to sleep

Start this exercise about an hour before you intend to go to sleep. You could do it while watching the TV but ideally you would be relaxing maybe with a book or a meditation before bed.

Relax and centre yourself, make sure you are in a comfy chair or laying down.

Breathe in nasally from your abdomen to a count of four, hold that breath in for a count of six, now release that breath nasally for a count of seven, brief pause at the end of the exhale then repeat for as long as you need to start feeling tired. It won’t be long if you do this properly and avoid distractions.

Got questions? Email Dave at phoenixholisticwellness@protonmail.com

There are many other exercises that I can teach you that are tailored to your individual need.


This is why our practices are offered on a value for value model.

Which means you pay what the treatment is worth to you and what you can afford, as we want everyone to benefit from these practices designed for health & wellbeing but made with unconditional LOVE!

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