What is functional breathing?

Sydney Airway Clinic > breathing > What is functional breathing?

Functional breathing is respiration that appropriately serves the two primary functions of:

  1. biochemical – regulation of oxygen, carbon dioxide and blood pH
  2. biomechanical – adequate action of the respiratory pump, the diaphragm

Functional breathing varies between individuals because we are all different. However, the general agreement is that the following parameters need to be present for breathing, whilst at rest, to be functional:

  • nasal breathing, lips closed
  • 8-10 breaths per minute
  • 4-5L of air per minute
  • diaphragm used for breathing
  • silent, relaxed
  • tongue up againt your palate

The importance of nasal breathing cannot be overstated. As air passes in through our nose, there are six stages of conditioning before it reaches the lungs:

  1. hairs (cilia) on the inside of our nose filter the air
  2. mucous further filters the air and secretes lysozyme, an antimicrobial agent
  3. the turbinates swirl air around to body temperature
  4. the sinuses produce 1.5L of mucous and serous fluids daily to ensure hydration of air. They also release nitric oxide, a potent antimicrobial agent that also vasodilates the blood vessels thereby increasing the oxygen uptake from the lungs to the blood
  5. the adenoids filter anything that has bypassed the aforementioned structures
  6. the tonsils perform the same as the adenoids

The two main types of dysfunctional breathing when one is at rest are:

  1. Mouth breahting: nasal obstructions can force one to mouth breathe and this has drastic effects on your body’s balance in the long term. Read more about mouth breathing here.
  2. Hyperventilation: Even if it is through the nose, overbreathing upsets the biochemistry of your body and disrupts many of your normal bodily functions.

Ofcourse, our breathing needs to alter to help us carry out whatever functions we are performing. Hence, if we are going for a run or doing a workout at the gym, then mouthbreathing and hyperventilation is functional as it serves out action.

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