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Breathing For Mental & Physical Health & Performance

Key Takeaways

  • The brain utilizes about 20% of all the oxygen we take in and needs it continuously

  • There’s bidirectionality to breathing and state: emotional state influence breathing and breathing influences emotional state

  • The most unique thing about breathing is that you can consciously change your breathing and change your signal and internal state

  • To increase heart rate, inhale longer than exhale; to slow heart rate, exhale longer than inhale

  • Fastest method to calm down in real time, try the physiological sigh: two inhales through the nose followed by an extended exhale through the mouth, repeat 5 minutes

  • Performance after lunch tends to fall off – try box before starting work again: 5 second inhale, 5 second hold, 5 second exhale, 5 second hold x 5-10 minutes

  • It might be that the specific pattern of breathwork one does is not as important as the transition between states of deliberate breathwork

Brain Centers Involved In Breathing

  • Breathing allows us to take in oxygen for body metabolic function and remove the carbon dioxide we produce

  • When you inhale, you contract the diaphragm and pull it down which expands the lungs

  • The diaphragm is extremely efficient at working with the lungs and passing air

  • At rest, exhaling is passive

  • Neurons in the spinal cord & brain stem go to respiratory muscles in diaphragm and rib cage and contract

  • preBötzinger Complex (discovered by Dr. Feldman): every breath begins with activation of neurons in this region which connect to motor neurons in intercostals and diaphragm

  • At rest you can maintain nasal breathing because the amount of air needed it manageable through these smaller pathways

  • Retrotrapezoid nucleus (RTN); (discovered by Dr. Feldman): cluster of neurons essential in chemoreception, how organisms respond to chemical stimuli


  • By default, we are diaphragmatic breathers – particularly when you need to increase ventilation

  • We sigh about every 5 minutes because you need a big pressure to pop the lungs open

  • Consequence to state of mind & biology in the absence of sighs: breathing is impaired, carbon dioxide builds, stress increases, lung function deteriorates (as shown in lab rats)

  • You’ll notice that during stress you sigh more because your body is trying to relax

  • Physiologic sigh: double inhale through nose followed by long exhale through mouth

  • If you suppress the ability to gasp, you can’t reignite breathing

  • Patients with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions have a loss of neurons in thepreBötzinger Complex – they often have breathing disturbances in sleep (not wakefulness) and can’t resuscitate

States Modulated By Breathing

  • Breathing affects emotional and cognitive states

  • Olfaction: inhaling and exhaling creates signals from nasal mucosa, riding on a respiratory-related oscillation

  • Vagus nerve: receives signals from many places – lungs, gut, etc. – so there’s a huge respiratory oscillation signal from vagus nerve

  • There’s an emotive control over breathing as well – breathing changes when we laugh

  • In apnea, carbon dioxide levels are going from low to high and has a profound influence on breathing and cognition

  • Controlled episodic hypoxia AKA Wim Hoff breathing can increase mental focus and cognition (short bursts of fast inhales and exhales for one minute, then hold breath about 15 seconds & repeat 5 minutes)

  • There are anecdotal reports of the effectiveness of breathing on one side of the nose versus the other – in other words, closing one side of the nose and breathing

  • Fear response & reaction time change in coordination with respiratory cycle

  • Different breathing practices could be affecting the outcome through different pathways

Various Breathing Practices Covered In This & Other Episodes

  • Tummo or Wim Hof style breathing: this is basically rapid, deliberate hyperventilation – this will make you feel alert and liberate adrenaline

  • Fastest method to calm down in real time: physiological sigh: two inhales through the nose followed by an extended exhale through the mouth, repeat 5 minutes

  • To increase heart rate – inhale longer and/or more vigorous than exhale

  • To slow heart rate down – exhale longer and/or more vigorous than inhale

  • Cyclic hyperventilation: deep inhale through nose immediately following by deep exhale through mouth x 25-30 then fully exhaling until lungs are empty and repeating – cycle for 5 minutes

  • Supplement that has shown enhancement in sleep and cognition: mangesium threonate at 200-400mg 2-3 hours before sleep


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