Functional breathing supports good health in multiple ways.
Unfortunately dysfunctional breathing can have a powerfully negative affect on our health and is far too common. It affects up to 70% of people with anxiety disorders, 30% of people with asthma and other types of chronic respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. It is also commonly found in panic disorder, certain types of sleep apnea, chronic pain conditions and chronic fatigue syndromes.
Our breathing can become dysfunctional, or less than optimal, for many reasons including medical conditions affecting the lungs, nasal passages, upper airways and the circulatory system. Breathing can also become disturbed because of stress overload or dysregulation of the body’s breathing control systems from chronic illness or trauma.
Recognising Dysfunctional Breathing
Dysfunctional breathing can present in many different ways. It might appear as empty nose syndrome, chronic mouth breathing, sleep disordered breathing, vocal fold dysfunction, unexplained anxiety, chronic hyperventilation or as a breathing pattern disorder. Breathing might seem irregular with frequent sighing, breath holding and upper chest breathing.
Common symptoms include feeling unable to take a deep or satisfying breathing, feeling anxious or pre-occupied about breathing sensations and unexplained “short of air” feelings. Often people with dysfunctional breathing have other non-respiratory symptoms that cannot be medically explained or don’t respond as well as expected to medication or to physical or psychological treatment.
Research shows that symptoms caused by dysfunctional breathing improve after breathing retraining.
Functional Breathing Retraining
Dysfunctional breathing and its associated symptoms can respond well to targeted, comprehensive and intensive breathing retraining. It usually takes several weeks of regular and consistent practice with a range of breathing, relaxation and mind-body techniques to correct dysfunctional breathing.
Functional breathing retraining aims to:
- Rehabilitate nasal breathing
- Correct hyperventilation (optimising oxygen and carbon dioxide levels)
- Optimise diaphragm and respiratory muscle function
- Relax the hyperaroused nervous system and improve vagal tone
- Correct hyperinflation or breath stacking
- Improve the connection between the heart and circulatory system
- Normalise breathing perception
- Reduce breathing discomfort
Functional Breathing Retraining Program
The program is individualised and generally involves:
- an initial assessment by Dr Rosalba Courtney DO PhD,
- 5 weekly therapy sessions of 1 hour (individually or in a small group),
- practice at home between sessions, and
- a follow-up assessment.