Shortness of breath – possible causes and techniques.

Have you ever experienced pain when breathing in ? Very commonly people fear heart attack and go to the hospital then. Well, but what if the doctor says not to worry? And gives NO explanation whatsoever? A shortness of breath can be analysed both from psychological and physiological points of view.

I have just read an article by <a href="http://wojciecheichelberger generic”>Wojciech Eichelberger about breathing. He links inhale and exhale to a host of psychological conditions. It is very common in the world of psychotherapy. An experienced specialist looks at your breathing pattern even before you speak.

Our inhale is linked to birth, expansion, accumulation, taking our place in the space. A fear of filling our lungs completely means that something happened in our life (even a long time ago) – and maybe is still happening – that makes us fear living fully.

An exhale can be linked to letting go, resting, intimacy, giving but also giving up, eliminating. A fear of emptying our lungs can mean we do not give ourselves the right to rest, to let go. When we are children we are not given this right by our parents.

If we fear weaknesses and being passive (i.e. exhale) and want to be strong and active all the time, then we will inhale another portion of air without even letting go the old! It can result in an inhale spasm – a psychological condition underlying asthma in kids of overly ambitious parents.

An opposite can happen in case of fear of coming to existence, showing up to a full life. An inhale spasm can cause an inexplicable cough after deep breathing attempts.

Both problems:

  • with breathing in (possibly a fear of open space) and
  • with breathing out (a fear of falling)

can stop us from breathing fully! And our bodies have amazing ways of reflecting it! The shortness of breath can be analysed purely from a physiotherapist point of view – see the next post.

Shortness of breathing on overeating

It is Christmas time and we have this tradition in Poland. We eat as much so that we can’t breathe. Then we complain. About everything. Yes, I know, we are a bit strange. Now, have you heard this saying: ‘You can’t choose the music they play but you can choose how you dance…’? Use the following when you overeat (or before and after any meal) but you don’t want to complain.


Do the following 7 times for each side:

  • lower hand as if you were pushing down a big stability ball
  • upper hand the opposite – push the ball up against the ceiling
  • breathing in when pushing – expand your lungs as much as possible
  • breathing out and crossing hands when changing sides

Now try and combine the above with one of the exercises described earlier! Then leave a comment and tell me what you think.


Diaphragm. The silent hero.

The history of inventions is probably the best proof that people are inherently lazy. However, when it comes to breathing many of us complicate things. Imagine you have a car and you push it instead of driving?!

But that is exactly what we do with our breathing (at least I do many times..) We have a big muscle that could do most of the respiratory work, calm us down, make us stronger, stabilise us. However, for some reason we choose not to use it to its full potential get redirected here. We use auxiliary muscles instead.

It is that simple. Our diaphragm could draw air to our lungs (going down it creates vacuum pressure in the alveoli in our lungs so that the air just flows in). The chest and neck muscles used instead try to do the same but much less efficiently (no surprise – they have to pull your rib cage up to create the above effect of vacuum).

Have you seen the favourite car of Tom Hanks?

I used to drive such a Polish Fiat many years
ago. When I run out of gas I literally pushed the car to the gas station. Using the above analogy – it is perfectly normal that when pushing your body to the limits (e.g. exercising) you gradually use more auxiliary muscles. Now, when you use them from the very beginning (of the exertion, etc.) – what will you use when it is tough and you want to go the extra mile?

I remember one more thing – sometimes the car stopped in the middle of the road. The way to start it again (OK. it was already a bit broken) was to press a stick against a certain location near the engine. Only now have I realised how close the metaphor was to our body and the diaphragm above all. Question for you – do you realize where your points (that stop you from breathing efficiently) are?

Look at yourself.

One of the most important tests of your breathing pattern is also one of the easiest. Just look at yourself in the mirror. Put one hand on your chest and the other just under your sternum/ribs. Take a few deeper breaths.

What do you see? Which hand moves more? Any of them is still? Do your arms move up and down? Are your neck muscles active?

If most of what you see is happening in the chest/arms/neck area you probably use auxiliary respiratory muscles pumping air only to upper part of the lungs More about the author. It has a lot of consequences. Putting it simply – it is more stressful.

The opposite is true if the lower hand moves more. Check if you can breathe ‘to your belly’ putting the hand even lower. Should be relaxing. The key respiratory muscle – diaphragm – plays the main role here. It is responsible for approximately 70% of the pumping work that needs to be done.

Don’t get desperate if you are an upper chest breather – many people are. Actually it is hard to find somebody who knows how to use the full potential of the diaphragm. Now – to get it right can mean whole new life for you – see the next posts!

Are you ready to try? What’s decision got to do with killing??

We are a sum of habits. If you want to help yourself with breathing – form a new habit. Notice I am not saying ‘change everything’. I am proposing you a good old tool – to start using it again. You still have it in your arsenal – maybe it just got a bit rusty. Or maybe you use it when times are good but forget about it when the conditions worsen.

The deal is: make a standing appointment with any of the breathing exercises described before for 10 minutes a day. Put it in your calendar as you put important meetings or tasks. If written down it has more probability you stick to it.

Anytime you meet the goal draw an X in your monthly calendar. When you gather a few Xs in a row it is getting more difficult to miss out. Will there be days you don’t feel like doing anything? Sure! ‘Punch a clock’ on those  but still win the X. Taste the winning and get ready for more wins!

By the way, think of the two points:

  1. when you are IN the process, regularly doing something, and
  2. when you are GOING to start doing something (and I really don’t care if you call it I have to/should/want to/will, etc.)

They are light years from each other. And this is your decision which one you choose. Now, the word decision comes from latin ‘decidra’ – to kill off. And yes, you are killing the other alternative. Sounds terrible and I respect it if you choose not to go IN at this time. But if you do – that’s where the magic happens!

So, act today, as if there was no tomorrow. Make it ‘tolerable ten’ minutes. Be fair and finish after this time if you feel it is enough. The beauty of this simple rule, however, is that many times you will say ‘OK. I can even go on for some more time. lipitor weight gain.’

It is like training muscles – give it an honest try for a few weeks to see results. At least 20 days. Then let me know how it goes!

Breathing – the less the better

Now that you have tried two breathing exercises and one test – do you feel it is difficult to slow down? Then the following exercises from renowned strength&conditioning coaches are for you. Aim at 10 minutes sessions.

Lie down with a straw in your mouth. Pinch off your nose with your fingers, relax and breathe. Focus more on your exhale. If it is too difficult – cut the straw in half and try again. When it gets too easy – put two straws together (inspiration by Pavel Tsatsouline, the author of ‘Simple and Sinister’).

When you get comfortable with breathing slower it is time to try breathing ladder (after Steve Maxwell, THE Coach with more than 50 years of training people under his BJJ black belt). Next time you walk do the following:

  1. inhale during your first step, exhale on the second, then
  2. inhale for the duration of two steps, exhale for another two,
  3. inhale for the duration of three steps, exhale for another three,
  4. and so on – to see how many steps you manage.

The idea is not to make a baloon from your lungs but to slow your breathing and maybe even use the same lung volume but go for more steps on one inhale and exhale. I really wonder how many steps you are able to pack here.


Would you jump around for 24h a day?

The shallow breathing induced by a startle reflex gets your heart pounding. It wouldn’t be a problem (who doesn’t like some excitement?) if it were not for the fact that many people stay there on their journey. Compare it to jumping around. It’s fun but would you jump for 24h a day? And that’s what you do with breathing.

The two approaches to relaxing breathing described in the last post had one thing in common. They propose to SLOW DOWN. One packs 4 breathing cycles into 1 minute, the other 5 cycles. Check your normal breathing rate – it is probably 18-20 breaths per minute.

Now the crucial point: the MORE you breathe the LESS oxygen you actually deliver to your body. It may sound counterintuitive but just imagine you are to carry the plates with food (and I really mean the most important nutrient) to the table while JUMPING.. and you just miss the table!!

If you suspect the above is your story – one of the first tests you can do to know where you are with your breathing is to: relax, inhale, exhale fully and measure (in seconds) how long it takes for you to have the first ‘temptation’ to breathe in. You should resume your breathing normally – without the need to gasp more air than usual. In case of known health conditions like heart disease, panic attacks, etc. refrain from this test.

I’m not asking you to stay under water for 20 minutes without breathing (btw. doable) but if your result is below 20 seconds it means your breathing system may be not optimal. If so – hey, you really need some more exercises! (check the real deal in the next post)

Breathing to relax – quick and easy tips from internet.

Some time ago a gif tagged ‘anxiety breathing’ was popular in the internet. It asks viewers to breathe to the rhythm of the image’s movement, begins as a dark dot, unfolds into a simple line, then a triangle, then a square, and finally ends its series of patterns as a full-fledged octagon before returning to its original form. It is supposed to lower stress level, according to research into stress management. People have been sharing it as helping with anxiety. 

Another approach trending in internet was named ‘4-7-8 Breath’. ‘The Relaxing Breath’ has been championed by Dr. Andrew Weil for years and is said to promote better sleep, reduce anxiety, and even help ward off food cravings.

The technique is based on pranayama—a word you may be familiar with from yoga class—which is an ancient Indian practice that simply means ‘regulation of breath.’ It’s an exercise that doesn’t require any equipment, takes less than a minute, and can be done anywhere at any time.

  • Place the tip of your tongue against the tissue behind your upper front teeth, keeping it there throughout the exercise
  • Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 seconds
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, pursuing your lips slightly, for a count of 8 seconds

Repeat this cycle three more times, paying a special attention to the Exhale:Inhale ratio. If it feels awkward to exhale around your tongue when it’s against your upper teeth, purse your lips a little. Some people use it to fall asleep quicker, while others use it to center themselves in stressful situations, like traffic jams, panic attacks, or before a big presentation.

Do you see what the above exercises have in common? Any differences?

Anxiety breathing – to breathe or not to breathe?

When talking about optimal breathing it seems reasonable to start from the compute following perspective: ‘to breathe or not to breathe?’. Let’s look at the situation when you hear a terrible noise (see the post about startle reflex)? Simplifying – you have two options:

  1. you breathe through the emotions and somehow of cope with them or
  2. you withdraw your breathing (totally or making it very shallow) and diminish your body sensations.

The second option seems easier – especially when you are a kid and do not know how to cope. The thing is that it can form a habit that will be difficult to change. Next time in the same situation you will not change ‘the winning team’.

Probably any emotion that surprises you can put you in an emergency state (even calculating 17 x 24) and change your breathing. Fritz Perls (psychiatrist and founder of Gestalt Therapy) said once ‘Fear is excitement without the breath’. Following on that – the state of anxiety seems a great place to look at breathing – being so far from breathing optimally.

The anxiety sufferer often doesn’t know the exact emotion that started the process but the habitual efforts of suppressing breathing and the body sensations cause the – sometimes overwhelming – fear. At this point choosing the option of ‘to breathe’ is not so easy any more (if you experience this go to the next post)

Act now: find something that will scare you or will produce emotions you normally supress. Do it and breathe through it (how about intentionally letting an egg fall on the kitchen floor?). Observe your breathing and body sensations and leave me a comment.