One of the most important elements in freediving & spearfishing is breathing control. Besides its obvious use, breathing plays an important role in our physical & emotional well being. How does one learn how to breath in a correct manner though? Multiple national record holder and Alchemy athlete Helena Bourdillon explains.

The Mechanics

The average adult breathes somewhere between 17k and 24k breaths in a 24-hour period. Most of those are done unconsciously but it does make sense if we're breathing that often to just pay attention to it and see if we can improve our habits at all.

Now in today's society, where we're constantly distracted, constantly on  the go, often more sedentary than we really should be, it's very easy to unconsciously fall into bad  breathing habits. And the trouble is these have an effect on our bodies physically and they have  an effect on our minds mentally as well, and they can cause ill health, they can cause ailments, even  diseases. And some of these ailments and diseases can be high blood pressure or high heart rate, digestive issues, back pain, headaches, tiredness and fatigue, even through to stress and  anxiety. That's a very small list of the ailments, it's a very general list of the ailments.

Now the good news is by practicing healthy breathing habits you can either reduce significant or even eliminate those ailments or diseases. An even better thing is you're not actually  having to learn something new, i'm not teaching you something brand new here today, because when you were born and when you were a young child, the way we're going to breathe is actually the way that you breathe perfectly naturally. So this is just a very quick reminder to your body on how  it should be breathing and with some practice, that hopefully you will do, your body will take it up again and start doing it naturally. And you will reap the benefits both physically  and mentally very quickly as a result.

So what is involved in a healthy breathing  habit? Well, there are three parts that i teach. First part is always breathe through your nose,  the second part is breathe evenly and the third part is breathe silently. So running through them in a bit more detail.

Breathe Through Your Nose

Our nose and sinuses take up around  30% of the space in our skulls and in that space a whole load of things are  done to the air that we inhale to make sure, when it reaches our lungs, it's in the best  possible condition it can be for us to use. And the things that happen are we warm the air,  we filter it and in some environments we might actually moisten it, if we're in a really dry environment. This all happens very naturally, we also produce something called nitric oxide, which  not only helps us to better absorb the oxygen that we're breathing in, is also a very potent  antiviral agent and all of these combine together to give your immune system the best chance  to defend against things like colds, viruses, airborne pathogens, allergens, anything that could  get into the lungs.

Now i'm not saying that nose breathing will prevent these things from entering  into your lungs, there is no data to support that, but what i am saying is, you are helping you, are  giving your immune system the fighting chance to help you by breathing through your nose. Because when you breathe through your mouth, you get none of those benefits. Our mouths are for  eating and talking, our noses are for breathing. So, first thing most important, always breathe  through your nose. With that you'll need to look at your posture slightly, because it's quite  difficult to breathe through your nose when you're hunched over. So either standing or sitting  upright with shoulders down. If that's really uncomfortable, if you're sitting you're finding  it's creating tension, just lean back against the cushion slightly and focus on breathing through  your nose, which will help you draw the air down into the lower part of the lungs, which is going  to start stimulating those feelings of well-being and relaxation and take you away from the fight  or flight mode which encourages the stress and anxiety. So, one, breathe through your nose.

Breathe Evenly

You need to find a rhythm for your breath where the volume of each breath is the  same and the length of each breath is the same. Find that rhythm, relax into it, the more you  relax into it, the longer you can make your exhale without causing any additional stress. And the  longer you are able to gently extend your exhale, the more again you are stimulating those feelings  of well-being and relaxation and grounding yourself and feeling in control of yourself and  the situation around you as much as you can be.  


Breathe Silently

When we're at rest, this means no sniffing, no yawning, no sighing, no nervous coughing and at night time no snoring.  Because those activities are hyperventilating and  
hyperventilating effectively means you are over  breathing. And to cut a long biological story short, over breathing actually robs our body of oxygen. We  are denying ourselves performance, endurance, focus and lots of really good things by over breathing.  So keep your breathing especially when you're at rest as quiet as possible. If you just run 10k and  you're gasping for breath, you need that air, you will be panting and you need that air. But when  you're at rest, your breathing should be quiet, almost silent.
So those three points again. One, always always breathe through your nose. Two, make your breaths even and three, make  them silent or as quiet as possible. When we use these healthy breathing habits  our bodies respond very quickly in a very positive way to this. Physically we can  reduce or even remove the illnesses and diseases that have been compounded by our bad breathing habits over the years and mentally this type of breathing helps keep us in the  now, where we aren't able to worry about the past and we're less fearful about the future. So  good breathing habits really are an essential tool in the positive mental health and  well-being toolbox that we will possess.  

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