Oxygen is essential for life, we all know that, but breathing (also known as respiration) is a much more complex phenomenon. The rate, depth and quality of our breathing can have profound effects on our health, and our scientific understanding of exactly how our respiratory system interacts with our immunity and general health is still growing. “Respiratory disease is New Zealand’s third most common cause of death, affecting the lives and families of more than 700,000 people, and costing the country more than $5.5 billion every year. Despite ongoing efforts from the health sector and improvements in medicine and health care, our respiratory illness rates continue to worsen.” Source: NZ Asthma Foundation, http://asthmafoundation.org.nz/ Retrieved 16.12.15.

When you're short of breath, it may be hard or uncomfortable to take in the oxygen your body needs. Sometimes mild breathing problems are caused by a cold, a stuffy nose or a hard workout session. But shortness of breath can also be an indication of a serious health concern. Lung conditions such as asthma, emphysema or pneumonia cause breathing difficulties. So can problems with your trachea or bronchi, which are part of your airway or respiratory system. Heart disease can make you feel breathless if your heart cannot pump enough blood to supply oxygen to your body. Stress caused by anxiety can also make it hard for you to breathe. If you often have trouble breathing, it is important to find out the cause.

Breathing through the nose is a good start. Slow, rhythmic breathing concentrating on the out breath is recommended. The Asthma foundation endorses a method known as Buteyko Breathing: “The main concept behind Buteyko is that people with asthma tend to breathe more deeply and more rapidly (hyperventilate) than they need to. Buteyko teaches clients through a series of breathing exercises how to breathe less deeply and less rapidly.” Source: NZ Asthma Foundation, http://asthmafoundation.org.nz/ Retrieved 16.12.15. “It took my breath away”, “I breathed a sigh of relief”, “…like a breath of fresh air”, and “I was breathless with anticipation” are all sayings that demonstrate how important breathing is to our emotional state.

Anxiety is an emotional state that will affect breathing and well-being, but it is becoming clear that by controlling the rate, depth and quality of breath we can control both emotions and general health.

References: Bowler SD, Green A, Mitchell CA. Buteyko breathing techniques in asthma: a blinded randomised controlled trial. Medical Journal of Australia 1998; 169: 575-578. McHugh P, Aitcheson F, Duncan B, Houghton F. Buteyko breathing technique for asthma: an effective intervention. The New Zealand Medical Journal 2003; 116-1187: www.nzma.org.nz/journal/116-1187/710/ British Thoracic Society & Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN). British Guideline on the Management of Asthma. Guideline No. 101. Edinburgh:SIGN; 2008. (www.sign.ac.uk/pdf/sign101.pdf ) Cowie R, Conley D, Underwood M, Reader P, A randomised controlled trial of the Buteyko technique as an adjunct to conventional management of asthma. Respiratory Medicine 2008; 102:726-32