Oxygen is highest on the list of substances needed to support human life, followed by water, then food. People may live weeks without food, days without water, but on minutes without breathing. People must breath constantly, and breathing patterns change depending on the situation, such difficulty breathing during high stress situations. Breathing is the only body function that can be controlled consciously or unconsciously. Taekwondo students learn to take conscious control of their breathing to improve their physical performance and physical and mental well-being.
Natural, Reflexive Breathing
Lungs to not move under there own power. The are inflated and deflated by the diaphragm, chest muscles, and movement of the rib cage. In natural breathing, the diaphragm drops and the abdomen expands during inhalation and diaphragm rises and the abdomen contracts during exhalation. Breathing is instinctive, rhythmic, and through the nose. Natural breathing automatically maintains a very specific gas ratio of O2 to CO2 in the blood stream; 6.5% CO2 and only 2% O2. Each breath contains 10 times more oxygen and 200 times less carbon dioxide than we need.
It is possible to breathe too much (hyperventilation). When we breathe normally, hemoglobin, the principle carrier of oxygen in the body, remains 98% oxygen (O2) saturated. When we breathe too quickly, we increase O2 saturation slightly but lose too much CO2, which is essential for O2 utilization. When the level of CO2 decreases too much the hemoglobin does not release O2 to the tissues (the Bohr Effect), which causes O2 starvation. The simple remedy is to breathe into a paper bag so exhaled CO2 is re-breathed and the CO2 level in the blood stream is restored.
Even though breathing is a natural, reflexive behavior, many people do not know how to breathe correctly. The body tries to compensate for bad breathing by using temporary defense mechanisms. If a person continues the incorrect breathing, the body may start relying on the defensive breathing, which may lead to dysfunctional breathing patterns. The six dysfunctional breathing patterns are hyperventilatory, clavicular, thoracic, paradoxical, periodic, and hypoxic. These patterns may occur individually or in combination.
Hyperventilatory. A rapid-breath pattern (averaging 20 breaths/minute) that uses the intercostals muscles and limited diaphragm movement. It is predominantly thoracic (see below) in nature. Caused by poorly managed anxiety, it presents itself as very shallow, very rapid, and compounded by sputtered sighs (periodic) and gasps (clavicular). Symptoms are panic, anxiety, and shock. The body uses this type of breathing when it is attacked in an effort to gain more oxygen for the fight-or-flight syndrome.
- Clavicular. In this pattern, the collarbones and chest raise while drawing the abdomen inward and upward. Person may inhale through the mouth in an attempt to get more oxygen.Using the accessory muscles to breathe consumes more oxygen than it provides. These students fatigue quickly.
- Thoracic. These are “chest-breathers” who breathe by lifting the rib cage up and out using the intercostals muscles with little abdominal movement. The upper lungs get air but the lower lobes, which receive the greatest blood volume, do not get sufficient air. These students are usually aggressive and fatigue quickly. They may get a "stitch in the side" due to cramps in the overworked intercostals.
- Paradoxical. In this pattern, the abdomen contracts during inhalation and expands on exhalation; the opposite of normal. Many beginning students use this type of "reverse breathing." It is characterized by clacicule or thoracic inhale followed by hypoxic breath retention and periodic sighs. These students fatigue quickly.
- Periodic. This pattern is characterized by rapid-shallow breathing followed by a holding of breath and a heavy sigh. It is an over reaction to CO2 concentrations in the bloodstream. This panting flushes the CO from the bloodstream, which causes the brain to shutdown respiration until the CO2 level raises to appropriate gas mixture and then restart shallow, rapid breathing without intervention following the sigh. This pattern may be created through sustained anxiety or by post-traumatic stress syndrome.
- Hypoxic. This pattern is characterized by holding the breath during exertion. This raises intra-thoracic pressure, which may cause fainting, increase in blood pressure, and hypoxia (lack of oxygen). May students exhibit the pattern when lifting a heavy weight or performing push-ups. These dysfunctional breathing patterns reduce oxygen delivery to the lungs and stress the breathing muscles, resulting in heavy breathing and fatigue, which leads to even more heavy breathing and fatigue. To counter these dysfunctional breathing patterns, students must relearn the proper, reflexive breathing of their childhood.
Hoopes, A. (2002). Breathing Training For Martial Artists. Shotokan Karate Magazine. (Issue 72); Generating Ki through Breathing. Shotokan Karate Magazine. (Issue 73); Stillness Training, The Basis of all Movement. Shotokan Karate Magazine. (Issue 72).
Sonnon, S. (2001). Oxygen Debt Does NOT Equal 'Cardio Training. Dvizheniye Journal July/August 2001. Available: www.amerross.com.