Why Holding Your Breath is Making You Tense


Breathing – such a simple exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide that involves trachea, lungs, bronchi, bronchioles, diaphragm, intercostal muscles, ribs, sternum, nerves, circulation, and lymph channels – no big deal right??!!

Image credit: Blend Images – JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images


One thing I LOVE about the respiratory system is the unique design is voluntary and involuntary. It’s really phenomenal!! You can’t control your heartbeat rate or rhythm and your leg is not carrying you across the street if you don’t send a signal from the brain to do so. Obviously, this system also has sympathetic and parasympathetic control, allowing you to increase or decrease oxygen supply as needed in response to your minute-by-minute demand.


So, why do you hold your breath – well, you are either going under water OR you are bracing for stress. You might be about to lift a heavy box, get punched in the stomach, or dive under water – physical stress. Maybe the love of your life is getting on one knee, or you just learned your mom passed away – emotional stress.

The one stress that you may not be as aware of is chemical. Chemical stress is experienced when pressures or stimulus changes. For example, you are climbing a mountain, running a marathon, or falling asleep. These variable follow 2 rules:

  • Boyle’s Law – the relationship between pressure and volume
  • Autonomic Nervous System – the division of the nervous system that sends signals to respond to stress

I would like to qualify why I think most people hold their breath unconsciously in response to chemical stress. From my perspective – caring for people’s reaction to stress –-> injury, the majority of people do not mindfully connect to where and how their body is processing the level of stress they are exposed to. Are you?!! Do you know when to say no? Do you practice adequate self-care? Do you plan good nutrition? Do you get enough sleep? Do you stop to heal when you have been injured (physically or emotionally)? If you answered no to these – you are part of the majority.


Now the epiphany!!! When you hold your breath, you are actively reducing oxygen distribution to tissues. This creates a hypoxic (and acidic) environment that reduces chemical reactions at all tissues, although for the purpose of inspiring relaxation, I want you to think about the muscles. Decreased chemical reactions –> decreased range of motion and nutrients –> TENSE! Not only is there a chemical consequence for what you feel, but there is also a mechanical consequence that creates limited movement in aiding respiration –> feeds the cycle.

Now that I’ve shared the bad news, the GOOD news is that you are the commander of your voluntary and involuntary respiratory system!!

You can CHANGE your mindfulness, practices, habits, and attentiveness to what YOU need!

STEP 1: Learn how to breathe. Practice different techniques. The one I
personally love the best is doubling my exhale in relation to my inhale. No
matter what technique you use – relax the rest of your body WHILE you are
practicing.

STEP 2: Prioritize your health. Find routines and disciplines that support your
goals.

STEP 3: Identify where stress tends to show up in your body. Find ways to
actively nurture that system. If you have a natural health professional on
your care team, ask them for help.

STEP 4: Check in with your breathing at intervals throughout the day. Set a
timer on your phone or tie a deep breath to something you do regularly
throughout the day.

STEP 5: Exhale on exertion. Coordinate your exhalation with any moving or
lifting that you do repetitiously (even sit to stand) or that aggravates your
body. Practice makes perfect!

STEP 6: Check your posture! When you stand/sit/sleep in an ergonomic
position, it is easier to get maximum respiratory function from your tissues.

Enjoy NOT holding your breath!! I hope you find a trick or two that you can implement easily into your day to help you benefit from maximum oxygen intake and the relaxing affect on your body that exhalation offers!!

In Love and Service, Dr. TSTEP 1: Learn how to breathe. Practice different techniques. The one I
personally love the best is doubling my exhale in relation to my inhale. No
matter what technique you use – relax the rest of your body WHILE you are
practicing.
STEP 2: Prioritize your health. Find routines and disciplines that support your
goals.
STEP 3: Identify where stress tends to show up in your body. Find ways to
actively nurture that system. If you have a natural health professional on
your care team, ask them for help.
STEP 4: Check in with your breathing at intervals throughout the day. Set a
timer on your phone or tie a deep breath to something you do regularly
throughout the day.
STEP 5: Exhale on exertion. Coordinate your exhalation with any moving or
lifting that you do repetitiously (even sit to stand) or that aggravates your
body. Practice makes perfect!
STEP 6: Check your posture! When you stand/sit/sleep in an ergonomic
position, it is easier to get maximum respiratory function from your tissues.
Enjoy NOT holding your breath!! I hope you find a trick or two that you can
implement easily into your day to help you benefit from maximum oxygen intake
and the relaxing affect on your body that exhalation offers!!
In Love and Service,

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