Deep breathing isn't "better" for you. Why would it be better? The more I look into the topic the more I realize there is actually little scientific evidence behind it. The myth seems to come from pre-scientific Eastern medicine; people who believed that "incorrect" breathing methods were the cause of physical illness (nope not genetics, aging, organ failure, hormonal imbalances, viruses, or bacteria. It's been breathing all along... damn.)
Today you can't go into a yoga class without being given highly specific breathing lessons by someone who has little to no understanding of functional anatomy, medicine, or exercise science. Cool sounding, methaphysicalesque (thats right. I said methaphysicalesque) ideas like "breathe in good thoughts while exhaling negative thoughts" are common in today's health obsessed world. But in reality, this type of imagery presents a dangerously distorted and highly inaccurate guide to an otherwise natural process. A guide which attempts to attach morality to something devoid of morality; respiration (CO2 is just as important to our bodies as O2. So why is exhalation "bad?" An over emphasis on oxygen and inhalation is a super common breathing trope.)
Human beings REALLY like to take simple, basic ideas and distort them into complex moral struggles they MUST overcome. Everything is an obstacle!! Nothing in life is easy; SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST BRUTHAAA! The struggle is realllllllllllllllllll cuz you gotta FIGHT for what you believe in! Love is a battlefield, baby!
In a way, a lot of these ideas stem from biblical concepts; that human beings are inherently unnatural, immoral creatures. It's a super common idea in progressive political circles as well; human beings are hell demons spawned by satan himself to destroy the planet with our anti-nature motor vehicles and artificial lights and shit. Obvi.
A lot of us have deeply engrained ideas that there’s just something inherently wrong with us. And we need to consciously and constantly FIX ourselves to have any hopes of being happy. It’s a really disturbing concept the more I think about it.
Oh yeah. Breathing! So anyway you’ll hear people say things like “oh no no no X method of breathing is awful! So unnatural!! It’s all about Y method!" No real substantive reason.. method X is just bad.
Ever hear someone talk about how bad chest breathing is? Even though our lungs are actually in our chest…. and even though breathing without the involvement of our chest is anatomically impossible.. it’s bad. Why? It just.. uh it’s just bad.
Diaphragmatic breathing is good though, right? Blehhhh ehhh ummm.. except that… um.. the diaphragm is engaged regardless of which “method” you use. It’s an involuntary muscle so like.. it’s not even possible to consciously engage; it's like asking someone to circulate blood using their heart.
And then... there's anal breathing. Yeah.. Guys think it makes them better at sex. Sigh... (that was an anal sigh, by the way.) Nope not healthy communication with their partners... all you need is some good, old fashion anus breath. Really spices things up you know? I have no idea how on god's green earth one experiences breath from their asshole and I'm not interested in finding out. Let's just call bullshit alright?
The funniest is when you get to listen to someone try and debunk one anatomically inaccurate method of breathing using another anatomically inaccurate method. It's painful, really (like anal.) In the real world, breathing is actually a HIGHLY subjective and sensory based experience. The way one THINKS they breathe (coughanalbreathingcough) rarely has any relation with how they're ACTUALLY breathing. But yeah... your very specific, anatomically inaccurate, medically unproven, highly subjective way of breathing is totally superior...
The TRUTH is that "deep breathing" techniques are often more harmful than they are helpful. For example, deep breathing encourages “over breathing” and can even enter the territory of hyperventilation. Many of us aren't breathing "wrong" or breathing "too little." If anything, we're breathing TOO MUCH and are OVERLY AWARE of our own breathing; a condition known as Dyspnea (look that shit up.)
Interestingly enough, there are yoga masters in some schools who’s focus is on minimal breathing. That is, very small inhales followed by very long exhales. Weird right? Try it and see how it feels.
Who’s right?? Chest breathing?? Belly breathing?? Diaphragm breathing? Rib breathing? Deep breathing?? Short breathing????? ANAL BREATHING?? How many god damn ways am I supposed to breathe and which way is the right one???
There’s no right answer. Like posture, there are many different ways which our body reflects and expresses complex emotional states. (No. Standing straight ALL the time ISN’T the best posture. Cause sometimes you’re fucking sad and just want to crawl into a ball and die and that’s awesome.)
Anxious? Go ahead and take some shallow breaths. It’s cool your body is doing what it needs to do. Just relax if you can/want to. Do what you gotta do and remind yourself it’s okay and there’s nothing wrong with the experience.
Happy?? You probably won’t be thinking about breathing at all. It’ll just happen how it happens. That’s cool too!
Present/Aware? You might take super relaxed, short inhales with long exhales. Thats cooooooooooooool as shit man.
If you're overly anxious it's less of a breathing issue and more of a mental/external issue. Sure, learning to identify whats happening in your body and relax a little is important. But WHY are you anxious? Short of an anxiety disorder.. what is your body trying to communicate?
Personally, I get anxious when my chore list piles up. It doesn't fuckin matter how much or how little I breathe.. I need to do my chores. My body knows I'm fuckin up and it doesn't feel good about it because I got shit to do man I ain't got time for no chores. That chore struggle is REAL!
Seriously though, just breathe. I promise you’ll be fine. Do whatever you need to do to and, most importantly, trust yourself. Life has good times and its got some bad times but trying to CONTROL yourself to only experience the ‘good’ is really harmful (like actually there’s at least some data suggesting this to be the case.)
Experience what’s going on in your body without judgement. STOP struggling to feel emotions you're not actually feeling! You're exactly who you need to be right now. =)
If you're a singer, check out my related article on breath support!