Breathing is the process that moves air in and out of the lungs or oxygen through other breathing organs such as gills. For organisms with lungs, breathing is also called ventilation, and it includes both inhalation and exhalation. Breathing is one part of physiological respiration and is required to sustain life.[1] Aerobic organisms of these types—such as birds, mammals, and reptiles—require oxygen to release energy via cellular respiration, in the form of the metabolism of energy-rich molecules such as glucose. Breathing is only one process that delivers oxygen to where it is needed in the body and removes carbon dioxide. Another important process involves the movement of blood by the circulatory system.[2] Gas exchange occurs in the pulmonary alveoli by passive diffusion of gases between the alveolar gas and the blood in lung capillaries. Once these dissolved gases are in the blood, the heart powers their flow around the body (via the circulatory system). The medical term for normal relaxed breathing is eupnea.

In addition to removing carbon dioxide, breathing results in loss of water from the body. Exhaled air has a relative humidity of 100% because of water diffusing across the moist surface of breathing passages and alveoli. When a person exhales into very cold outdoor air, the moisture-laden atmosphere from the lungs becomes chilled to the point where the water condenses into a fog (“seeing the breath”).


File:X-ray video of a female American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) while breathing – pone.0004497.s009.ogv

X-ray video of a female American alligator while breathing.
In Mammals, breathing in, or inhaling, is due to the contraction and flattening of the diaphragm, a domed muscle that separates thorax and abdomen. If the abdomen is relaxed, this contraction causes the abdomen to bulge outwards, expanding the volume of the body. This increased volume causes a fall in pressure in the thorax, which causes the expansion of the lungs. When the diaphragm relaxes air leaves largely by elasticity of the lung. This is quiet, relaxed breathing needing little energy. When need increases the abdominal muscles resist expansion. The increased abdominal pressure then tilts the diaphragm and ribcage upwards with an increase in volume and the entry of air. Expiration follows relaxation of diaphragm and abdominal muscles, but can be increased by downward action of abdominal muscles on the rib cage. This forced expiration increases pressure across the airway’s walls and may lead to narrowing and perhaps to wheezing. Intercostal muscles are auxiliary, stiffening and shaping the rib cage. Speech depends on the balance between the two forms of breathing, and in humans conscious change often modifies autonomous reaction to need. The pattern can vary with fear in anticipation of need, and so with anxiety, and may be conditioned to experience such as the loss of an inhaler. It is also affected by loss of lung elasticity in age or pulmonary disease, of abdominal expansion from obesity, or of muscle power to resist expansion or to pull the ribcage down. Ten muscles are used for inspiration:[3]

Diaphragm, Intercostal Muscles, Scalenes, Pectoralis Minor, Serratus Anterior, Sternocleidomastoid, Levator Costarum, Upper Trapezius, Latissmus Dorsi, and Subclavis.

Eight are used for forced expiration:[4]

Internal intercostal, Obliquus Internus, Obliquus Externus, Levator Ani, Triangularis Sterni, Transversalis, Pyramidalis, and Rectus Abdominus.

In amphibians, the process used is positive pressure breathing. Muscles lower the floor of the oral cavity, enlarging it and drawing in air through the nostrils (which uses the same mechanics – pressure, volume, and diffusion – as a mammalian lung). With the nostrils and mouth closed, the floor of the oral cavity is forced up, which forces air down the trachea into the lungs.

Control of breathing

Main article: Control of respiration
Breathing is one of the few bodily functions which, within limits, can be controlled both consciously and unconsciously.

Conscious control

Conscious control of breathing is common in many forms of meditation, specifically forms of yoga for example pranayama.[5] In swimming, cardio fitness, speech or vocal training, one learns to discipline one’s breathing, initially consciously but later sub-consciously, for purposes other than life support. Human speech is also dependent on conscious breath control. Also breathing control is used in Buteyko method, Coherent Breathing, and breathing training employing biofeedback, an example being Coherent Breathing which employs both heart rate variability (HRV) and Valsalva Wave biofeedback to optimize breathing depth and frequency.

Unconscious control

Unconsciously, breathing is controlled by specialized centers in the brainstem, which automatically regulate the rate and depth of breathing depending on the body’s needs at any time. When carbon dioxide levels increase in the blood, it reacts with the water in blood, producing carbonic acid. Lactic acid produced by fermentation during exercise also lowers pH. The drop in the blood’s pH stimulates chemoreceptors in the carotid and aortic bodies as well as those inside the respiratory center in the medulla oblongata. Chemoreceptors send more nerve impulses to the respiration centre in the medulla oblongata and pons in the brain. These, in turn send nerve impulses through the phrenic and thoracic nerves to the diaphragm.


For instance, while exercising, the level of carbon dioxide in the blood increases due to increased cellular respiration by the muscles, which activates carotid and aortic bodies and the respiration center, which ultimately cause a higher rate of respiration.

During rest, the level of carbon dioxide is lower, so breathing rate is lower. This ensures an appropriate amount of oxygen is delivered to the muscles and other organs. It is important to reiterate that it is the buildup of carbon dioxide making the blood acidic that elicits the desperation for a breath much more than lack of oxygen.


It is not possible for a healthy person to voluntarily stop breathing indefinitely. If one does not inhale, the level of carbon dioxide builds up in the blood, and one experiences overwhelming air hunger. This irrepressible reflex is not surprising given that without breathing, the body’s internal oxygen levels drop dangerously low within minutes, leading to permanent brain damage followed eventually by death. However, there have been instances where people have survived for as long as two hours without air; this is only possible when submerged in cold water, as this triggers the mammalian diving reflex[6] as well as putting the subject into a state of suspended animation.

If a healthy person were to voluntarily stop breathing (i.e. hold his or her breath) for a long enough amount of time, he or she would lose consciousness, and the body would resume breathing on its own. Because of this one cannot commit suicide with this method, unless one’s breathing was also restricted by something else (e.g. water, see drowning).

Hyperventilating causes a drop in CO2 below normal levels, lowering blood and oxygen supply to vital organs due to CO2-induced vasoconstriction and suppressed Bohr effect. Voluntary hyperventilation can cause tissue oxygen levels to go to dangerously low levels leading to, for example, fainting due to brain hypoxia.

Breathing in gas

Question book-new.svg
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Oxygen is the essential component of all breathing gases.

The air we inhale is roughly composed of (by volume):

78.04% nitrogen
21% oxygen
0.96% argon
In addition to air, underwater divers often breathe oxygen-rich or helium-rich gas mixtures. Oxygen and analgesic gases are sometimes given to patients under medical care. The atmosphere in space suits is pure oxygen. Also our reliance on this relatively small amount of oxygen can cause overactivity or euphoria in pure or oxygen-rich environments.

The permanent gases in gas we exhale are 4% to 5% by volume more carbon dioxide and 4% to 5% by volume less oxygen than was inhaled. This expired air typically composed of:

78.04% nitrogen
13.6% – 16% Oxygen
4% – 5.3% Carbon dioxide
1% Argon and other gases
Additionally vapors and trace gases are present: 5% water vapor, several parts per million (ppm) of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, 1 part per million (ppm) of ammonia and less than 1 ppm of acetone, methanol, ethanol (unless ethanol has been ingested, in which case much higher concentrations would occur in the breath, cf. Breathalyzer) and other volatile organic compounds. Oxygen is used by the body for cellular respiration and other uses, and carbon dioxide is a product of these processes. The exact amount of exhaled oxygen and carbon dioxide when breathing and the amount of gases exhaled may vary based on diet, exercise and fitness.

Air pressure

Atmospheric air at altitude is at a lower pressure than at sea level due to the lesser weight of the air above. This lower pressure can lead to altitude sickness, or hypoxia.

Gases breathed underwater are at higher pressure than at sea level due to the added weight of water. This can lead to nitrogen narcosis, oxygen toxicity, or decompression sickness.

Cultural significance

In t’ai chi ch’uan, aerobic training is combined with breathing to exercise the diaphragm muscles and to train effective posture, which both make better use of the body’s energy. In music, breath is used to play wind instruments and many aerophones. Laughter, physically, is simply repeated sharp breaths. Hiccups, yawns, and sneezes are other breath-related phenomena.

Ancients commonly linked the breath to a life force. The Hebrew Bible refers to God breathing the breath of life into clay to make Adam a living soul (nephesh). It also refers to the breath as returning to God when a mortal dies. The terms “spirit,” “qi,” “prana” and “psyche”[7] are related to the concept of breath. Also cognate are Polynesian Mana and Hebrew ruach.

Common phrases in English relate to breathing e.g. “catch my breath”, “took my breath away”, “inspiration”, “to expire”.

See also

Apnea (suspension of breathing)
Breath gas analysis
Diaphragmatic breathing
Kussmaul breathing
Agonal breathing
Cheyne-Stokes respiration
Biot’s respiration
Mouth breathing
Nose breathing
Respiratory rate
Liquid breathing
Carbon cycle
Buteyko method


Breathing: Three Exercises
three breathing exercises inside

Three Breathing Exercises

“Practicing regular, mindful breathing can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders.”
Andrew Weil, M.D.

Since breathing is something we can control and regulate, it is a useful tool for achieving a relaxed and clear state of mind. I recommend three breathing exercises to help relax and reduce stress: The Stimulating Breath, The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise (also called the Relaxing Breath), and Breath Counting. Try each and see how they affect your stress and anxiety levels.

Exercise 1:
The Stimulating Breath (also called the Bellows Breath)
The Stimulating Breath is adapted from a yogic breathing technique. Its aim is to raise vital energy and increase alertness.

Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed but relaxed. Your breaths in and out should be equal in duration, but as short as possible. This is a noisy breathing exercise.
Try for three in-and-out breath cycles per second. This produces a quick movement of the diaphragm, suggesting a bellows. Breathe normally after each cycle.
Do not do for more than 15 seconds on your first try. Each time you practice the Stimulating Breath, you can increase your time by five seconds or so, until you reach a full minute.
If done properly, you may feel invigorated, comparable to the heightened awareness you feel after a good workout. You should feel the effort at the back of the neck, the diaphragm, the chest and the abdomen. Try this breathing exercise the next time you need an energy boost and feel yourself reaching for a cup of coffee.

Exercise 2:
The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise
This exercise is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.

Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.

This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.

Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it will be a very useful tool that you will always have with you. Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. Use it to help you fall asleep. This exercise cannot be recommended too highly. Everyone can benefit from it.

Exercise 3:
Breath Counting
If you want to get a feel for this challenging work, try your hand at breath counting, a deceptively simple technique much used in Zen practice.

Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight and head inclined slightly forward. Gently close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then let the breath come naturally without trying to influence it. Ideally it will be quiet and slow, but depth and rhythm may vary.

To begin the exercise, count “one” to yourself as you exhale.
The next time you exhale, count “two,” and so on up to “five.”
Then begin a new cycle, counting “one” on the next exhalation.
Never count higher than “five,” and count only when you exhale. You will know your attention has wandered when you find yourself up to “eight,” “12,” even “19.”

Try to do 10 minutes of this form of meditation.


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. Developing healthy, holistic mind-body-spirit natural breathing without drugs or surgery; breathing fundamentals, breathing techniques, breathing exercises and everything else related to breathing including diet-nutrition, emotions, internal cleansing, speaking, singing, performance and sleep. All integral aspects of state of the art functional medicine.

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Welcome to What ever condition or challenge–be it positive or negative–that caused you to be here, you can bet that the way you breathe is profoundly influencing it in many more ways than you could ever imagine AND you can change it rapidly and accurately. Breath IS life in many wonderful ways you may never have imagined. Breath is life.

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“Breathing is the first place not the last place one should investigate when any disordered energy presents itself. ” Sheldon Saul Hendler, MD, PhD. The Oxygen Breakthrough

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Breathing is not only a marker for health and longevity, it is a major aspect for personal and spiritual growth and our ability to create and adapt to life’s challenges and opportunities as we progress at our own speed.

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integrates ancient teachings, modern science and technology, touch, non touch and self help approaches. It is compatible with ALL forms of therapeutic, religious, spiritual and stream of consciousness expressions. Breathing mechanics are essentially the same for every normal human body but many of us lose good breathing or never had it. Breath is life. Many wish to improve on what they already have. I am 72 years old. The Voldyne 5000 shows my breathing volume to be that of a 6 foot 6 inch 20 year old male. At age 13 I was 6 foot 2 inches tall. I am still that tall. There are specific and measurable factors that comprise our teachings.

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For some, breathing development is of the utmost importance, right now. For others better breathing is an indispensable aid to everything related to life and living.

Consider this:

Science has proven that cancer is anaerobic – it does not survive in high levels of oxygen.
Shortness of breath and heart disease are directly linked – the heart goes into spasm when it is deprived of oxygen.
Studies have shown that there is a high correlation between high blood pressure and poor breathing.

Most emotional issues, including breathing related anxiety and depression, result from the nervous system being out of balance. Breathing drives the nervous system.

Optimal Breathing helps to promote weight loss. Oxygen burns fat and calories.
Breathing well is the key to sleeping well and waking up feeling rested.
Breathing provides 99% of your energy. Without energy, nothing works.
Yoga breathing may or may not aid proper breathing
Breath is life. Virtually every health condition and human activity is improved with Optimal Breathing.
Clinical studies prove that oxygen, wellness, and life-span are totally dependent on proper breathing.

Lung volume is a primary marker for how long you will live. Lung tests are critical to staying healthy.

Breathing supplies over 99% of your entire oxygen and energy supply. Poor breathing causes or worsens chronic maladies such as asthma, allergies, anxiety, fatigue, depression, headaches, heart conditions, high blood pressure, sleep loss, obesity, harmful stress, poor mental clarity plus hundreds of other lesser known but equally harmful conditions. ALL diseases are caused or worsened by poor breathing.

The average person reaches peak respiratory function and lung capacity in their mid 20’s. Then they begin to lose respiratory capacity: between 10% and 27% for every decade of life! So, unless you are doing something to maintain or improve your breathing capacity, it will decline, and with it, your general health, your life expectancy, and for that matter, your spirit as well.

Optimal breathing gets you more vitality and better quality of life. We also address food, exercise, internal cleansing, attitude, and environment but breathing is for many the most important part of getting and staying healthy. Begin with breathing. Better breathing is possible for anyone. Develop your breathing now.

Breathing fundamentals are critical.
Just because one particular breathing exercise or development technique feels good does not mean it is the best choice. Many feel good at the outset of a certain exercise but that is largely because so many breathe so poorly that any progress feels significant, and it may well be. But each technique or exercise must be based in solid breathing fundamentals otherwise they can work against each other and cause future breathing development problems. Like a rocket ship even slightly off course, as the days and weeks pass, you will travel further and further away from your goal of a long, healthy, vibrant life. Knowing the fundamentals helps you stay on course. Here is an example of being way off course – Superman Syndrome. Here is another.

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Our optimal natural state should be steady energy throughout the day; great positive mood; freedom to breathe deeply and easily; waking up clear headed and refreshed; a clear mind and good memory and a strong vocal expression. All of these are dependent upon the way we breathe.

If you are willing to take action to improve your breathing or achieve optimal health, please read on. This website is here for you to learn how stronger, deeper, easier balanced, healthy breathing will give your life a new meaning. If you have any breathing problems, your health isn’t all you’d like it to be or just want to speak, or sing or play a wind instrument better, I am here to help you make a dramatic change for the better.

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What others are saying:

Learning to breathe under the guidance of Mike White has not only saved my life but profoundly altered its quality. – M.D., California

I am a changed person….I sleep better, look better, and think better, all because of the video and exercise #1. – Wanda Chafin

I am now of course still practicing proper breathing (50 years of bad habits), off meds, and have not awaked at night even once since starting the tapes and getting private instruction from Michael. – Phyllis Ross

Michael White is an extraordinary breathing coach who teaches people new patterns of breathing, helping them to bring in more oxygen. These techniques help to improve health, stamina and even voice quality. – Raymond Francis, Director, Beyond Health Corporation

While working with Mike in 2000 I was introduced to a strapping exercise which really allows an opening and expanding of lung capacity. – Phillip Madeley

Coming to The Optimal Breathing School has been a life altering event for me. I learned how critical free flowing, coordinated, and balanced breathing is to our human existence. – Sam Leiter, Philadelphia

“I have sang and played music for 35 years. I had no idea I was capable of singing with such strength, control, confidence and ease as I have been until after working with Mike for only 5 hours.” – Jerry Harmon, Appalachian Singer Songwriter

From personal experience I can highly recommend Mike White, the expert on optimal breathing. If there is anyone who can really help you breathe better, it’s Mike. – Esther Joy, Natural Vision Trainer

Schedule an hour or two with Mike White! He’ll share some terrific information and techniques to help yourself breathe better, Improve your diet and gain a new outlook on life! – Jan J., health professional

I felt taller, my posture improved, I could take fuller, deeper breaths, I felt energized and focused while in class, and now I am motivated to do what it takes to continue to improve my breathing and posture. – Margaret A., massage therapist