Is Deep Breathing Really Good for You?

Many methods of relaxation teach us to breath deeply, exhaling “stale” air, and emphasize a need to get “fresh air.” The Lamaze method of breathing for women while undergoing labor has taught us to breathe deep breaths. Kundalini yoga teaches rapid deep breaths. In most situations this is not a good approach.

When we have anxiety we often think we can’t get enough air, we’re trapped.

The truth is we almost always have a reserve of air in our lungs. There is almost always enough oxygen available to us at any time. The real secret of breathing is the availability of carbon dioxide in our blood.

We learned in basic science classes that humans breathe in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide. Plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. That’s why you don’t want the rainforest to be cut down, because it cuts back on the planet’s supply of oxygen.

Now another difference between humans and plants, is that humans run on red blood cells that have iron as its mineral base. The red blood cells carry the oxygen to where it is needed in the body. That’s why if you are anemic, that is have fewer functioning red blood cells, you feel run down. You aren’t getting enough oxygen.

But remember, the real secret is carbon dioxide or CO2. CO2 releases oxygen from its bond to the red blood cells. So not enough CO2 means your brain and body don’t get enough oxygen. This is not a big secret; during every surgery the anesthesiologist is constantly checking a monitor that tells them how much carbon dioxide is in the breath.

It has to be just the right amount to maintain the body’s functions.

OK, so back to your breathing. If you breathe deeply or quickly, you give off more CO2. In hyperventilation situations you breathe off even more, so the body utilizes less oxygen. Think of when you have run too hard. You’re out of breath, maybe you feel dizzy or weak. Your muscles start to cramp. That means you don’t have enough CO2 to release the oxygen you need.

Remember how when someone is anxious and they were told to breath into a paper bag? What does that do? It collects the CO2 we are breathing out and increases the amount we breathe in.

So back to breathing. The body knows what to do under most circumstances. It is trying to maintain the correct balance of gases in our system at every moment. If we breathe naturally, it comes from the motion of our diaphragm, not the chest. The diaphragm is a huge set of muscles that form a hood below our lungs, covering the lower back and upper abdomen. As it moves it works our lungs like a bellows. It appears as if we are breathing from our bellies.

If you watch someone breathing you can tell if they breathe superficially from the movement of their chest, or deeply from the movement of their bellies. Any baby or cat gives a perfect example of correct breathing. Most people think that expanding their chests means they are taking a deep breath.

But by breathing from a relaxed diaphragm, there is no effort. We allow the correct mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide to occur. This belly breathing is the secret to enriching our cells with oxygen. It enhances our mental function and relaxes our anxieties. If we pay attention to the deepest part of our breath at the bottom of our expiration we can feel the natural return to inspiration. There is no effort. This is the basis for the most common forms of meditation.

We don’t have to close our eyes. In fact, the best time to pay attention to our breath is when we are in a stressful situation. Instead of becoming anxious waiting for the light to turn, breathe from your belly. In fact, don’t try to manipulate your breathing, just feel how deep it sinks. This is the secret from athletes to people who have panic attacks. It is in your control. Deep breathing may help us relax the muscles of the chest, but it is not the efficient way to change our bodies.

A basic understanding of how our bodies operate opens up doors to understanding its relationship to the mind.

Dr. Andrew Lange served as Chair of the Department of Homeopathic Medicine and Supervising Clinical Physician at Bastyr University in Seattle. He is the author of Getting to the Root: Treating the Deepest Source of Disease and a contributing author to A Textbook of Natural Medicine by Pizzorno and Murray. For more information go to


Emma S.
Emma S6 years ago

In actor training you're told that, when the breath is expelled, the diaphragm pulls down, making room for new air. So it's about letting the diaphragm doing what it needs to do, rather than making any effort.

William F.
William Ford7 years ago

Tough sleep with good breathe?

Joby E.
Joby E.7 years ago

WOW. That's not at all how respiration works.

What is this quack a doctor of? Underwater basket weaving with a minor in jackassery?

AA A.7 years ago

This article's explanation of why CO2 is important is bogus. Has no one here heard of the "electron transport chain" from cell biology 101? or read any layman's article on the concept of hyperventilation? You don't "need" CO2 to release O2 if you already have O2 where it's needed. However, you need CO2 to maintain the appropriate blood pH so O2 can get where it's needed. Just say "no" to junk science.

Charles G.
Wilde Thange7 years ago

it is best to have an inspiration date rather than going on an expiration date.... breathing a sigh of relief is good if you have a lot of sighs on hand... and remember not to breathe like a plant.. and if you are sleeping don't breathe like a dolphin because you will have to come up for air... you will wonder where your autonomic nervous system has gone...

Mrs Shakespeare
Mrs Shakespeare7 years ago

Personally, I think it is. It has helped me calm down at times.

Jack S.
Jack S.7 years ago

Deep breathing is really good for ones health. In a way it is type of meditation only which keep you fit and relaxed and after doing it for 10 to 15 minutes you feel yourself on the top of heaven.

Eye Allergies

Ron T.
Ron T7 years ago

The easiest way to tell if you are breathing in a natural, healthy fashion is just to listen for the sound of your own breath. If you can hear the air moving in and out your nostrils in an effortless rhythmic fashion, using the diaphragm, then you're probably doing optimum breathing. There's no effort to it, no instructions to suck in hold it, push out extra hard, pause between in and out or any of that. If you or another person in the room can't hear the sound of your lungs moving the air in and out, then you are shallow breathing. Shallow breathing invokes the sympathetic nervous system and floods the body with adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. Not good things to be dosing yourself with on a regular basis. Observe yourself & other people and listen for the sound of your own breath. Then you're in control. It's not easy to break the shallow breathing pattern we all learned, but if you, then you get the tremendous benefits!

Richard K.
Richard K7 years ago

Well, James, here is your opportunity to pass on your knowledge to the rest of us. The following comment was my input. Your simple exercise, please?

"Careful breath control with emphasis on
exhaling helps us to relax under any kind of tension or stress. Exercise: Place the shoulder blades as nearly together as you can without strain (this opens the lungs for deep breathing), then breath out gently and fully. Pause, then inhale with a deep, slow gentle breath, until the lungs are comfortably filled. Breath out slowly through the nose with a long sigh and without altering the shoulder blades. Do this a dozen times. This eases nervous tension and depression by stimulating and inspiring the brain with a full supply of oxygen. Ref:'Sivananda Yoga Teachers Manual; Pranayama or Yogic Breathing'"

James R Stewart Jr

I was in a swimming team from age 9 to 19, doing a quarter-mile 5 days a week for all those years. (Deep, Full, Belly-Breathing.) I still do it while walking around the block - about a mile, 2 or three days a week. The explanation above is Unnecessarily Complicated and Confusing. The writer ought to go back and SIMPLIFY IT for all the rest of us. PLEASE !!!