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  • Dr. Erica Oberg

Breath & Health Connection



Last month, I hosted a winter webinar virtual retreat on the theme that so many of us focus on at this time – January renewal and re-commitment to a healthier path. This year, I was joined by my practice manager and talented yogi, Jen Snyder. We discussed some factors that I consider key to wellness (see previous post on Happiness), and then Jen lead us in a gentle yoga session. One of the topics we discussed, due to its overlap in wellness and yoga, is breathing.


While breathing continues under autonomic control even when we are not thinking about it, there are many benefits to bringing the process into your consciousness and learning to breathe better. Firstly, we should appreciate the importance of the exhale in breathing. Jen points out that in high stress, high anxiety daily activities, we tend to hold our breath, or breathe very shallowly. These are normal fight-or-flight responses, but they become dysfunctional when we are trying to stay grounded and clear. When we exhale, we breathe out carbon dioxide which is acidifying. In fact, panic attacks are exacerbated by hyperventilation and the panic-y feelings are a result of the un-exhaled carbon dioxide which affects the brain. This is why the folk-wisdom of breathing into a paper bag works to calm down a panic attack.


Further, when we exhale, we relax the diaphragm muscle, letting it balloon up into the ribcage (see the photo below). Relaxing the diaphragm with full exhalations not only improves your breathing and clarity, it can relax the surrounding muscles improving conditions like low back pain.


Did you know? When we lose weight, specifically fat mass, we lose it through our breath? Fat is oxidized into carbon dioxide and water, which must be exhaled. Here’s a nice article if you want to learn more.


Does all of this discussion about breathing have you intrigued? Learn more in 2 ways! Join Jen (in person at Buddhi Yoga or online, register for either here) on Sunday, March 7th 2:30-4pm PST for a breathing workshop and practice session. Also, join us in a virtual book club with reading and discussing James Nestor’s new book Breath, which has received a top nonfiction of 2020 award. It’s widely available at your local bookshop, online, or on your digital devices. Comment on the book and discuss with us on Facebook here!



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© 2020 by Dr. Erica Oberg, ND, MPH