A Simple Way to Begin Improving Your Health Right Now


I love it when things in life confirm and parallel one another! I would like to share information on breathing and how it can profoundly impact our health in a negative and positive way. The subject of this writing is restricted breath flow (hypoventilation) in contrast to deep breathing and their effect on our health. My observations come from over 20 years clinical practice of Chinese medicine and over 25 years of Aikido practice.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Western biomedicine, both observe that we acquire energy and blood from the air we breathe and food we eat; healthy breathing and eating obviously play a huge role in our health. Both TCM and Western medicine consider good health to be a result of a smooth flow of energy and blood. In contrast to Western medicine TCM recognizes unique internal and external factors which may impair the flow of energy/blood in the body.

The Chinese were primarily an agrarian society (agriculture based). They were deeply aware of their connection to the environment and seasons, and thus observed how external phenomenon may also play a role in influencing our internal environments. TCM purports these internal and external factors may disrupt the natural flow of blood and energy in the body.

TCM observes 6 external climatic factors including wind, cold, summer heat, dampness, dryness, and fire. External injuries also fall into this category. Internal factors include the 7 emotions excess joy, anger, melancholy, worry, grief, fear, and fright. They also included stagnation of bodily fluids e.g., phlegm and blood in this category. Other internal factors include improper diet, overstain, stress, and lack of physical exercise. Breathing can be affected in a negative or positive way from all of these factors. Shallow breathing can be observed as a result to both external and internal factors.

We shallow breathe for many reasons for example, stress, poor posture, and even vanity. There are both psychological and physiological consequences as a result to shallow breathing. Shallow breathing lowers the production of lymphocytes (white blood cells), which play a major role in our immune systems.1 Shallow breathing also lowers the production of proteins associated with signaling immune cells.1 Shallow breathing also affects our musculoskeletal system in harmful ways. When we shallow breathe we depend on our upper body muscles to inhale, these muscles were not designed to habitually do this job. The result is chronic upper back, neck and upper chest tightness. Chronic tightness causes the sympathetic nervous system to be stimulated, which puts us into a chronic state of fight or flight. The chronic tightness sets up a cyclical scenario in which we become stressed and thus shallow breathe and in turn shallow breathe because we are in a state of stress.

The vagus nerve is the commander of the autonomic nervous system, which is comprised of the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. The autonomic nervous system decides whether we should be resting and digesting (parasympathetic), or engaging in flight, fright or freeze (sympathetic) activities. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve and turns down the sympathetic response and reduces stress hormones associated with the stimulation of the sympathetic response e.g., cortisol and adrenalin.2

In my clinic, I suggest various means to encourage deep (diagrammatic breathing) such as, Aikido, tai chi, yoga, walking, swimming, and meditation

I find that people who are unwell tend to be lacking in healthy connections from social to health choices and practices. When I’m working with a patient it is my goal to get to the root of the problem, which often looks like helping to restore these disconnections. I often begin by examining the breath; people who are in pain or sick tend to be shallow breathers.

I also practice and teach a martial art called Aikido. Aikido is also based on balancing energy; in fact Aikido is translated as Ai (Harmony), Ki (energy), and Do (the path). The founder of Aikido strived to cultivate peace and love on this earth. You may be thinking, how is that possible through a martial art? Yes, aikido is a self-defense martial art, which can be used to protect oneself or a loved one, however, when used correctly the result is a resolution of conflict without harm to one’s self or the one attacking.

Chinese medicine and Aikido parallel via connection and flow of breath energy. Aikido practice utilizes biofeedback from the attacker. This biofeedback can be observed via there state of mind and various physical ques. It is through this information that we are able to connect and guide our training partner to the ground safely. I also use this biofeedback connection in my practice. Checking in with our breathing is a way of accessing our own biofeedback.

When we are attacked in Aikido, we train ourselves through practice, to breathe deeply. Breathing deeply helps us to reconnect our primitive selves i.e., crocodilian thinking with our higher selves. I mention the Aikido connection because in Aikido the moment we are attacked perfectly mirrors the way we feel when we encounter any kind of stress in our lives. I enjoy Aikido from this perspective in that it allows us to practice handling stress and how we respond to it in the real world.

This practice can be duplicated by simply taking deep belly breaths for 5-10 minutes a day. Try it for a week, I think you will be amazed in your response to future stresses. It is in this place of calm where we can cultivate healthy connections, with ourselves and with others. Another daily practice I enjoy is when I meet a stranger or conflict in life I also try to deep breathe. I imagine filling the empty space between me and them, or me and it with my breath. While I hold this place and fill the space, I breathe deeply and allow myself to be present in the moment. Breath connects us to us, and us to us others. I encourage everyone to try practicing deep breathing daily.

Dr. Benjamen Clancy, DAOM, L.Ac.


1. And Breathe: The complete guide to conscious breathing - the key to health, wellbeing and happiness: Rebecca Dennis (author): 9781409168324: Amazon.com: Books. https://www.amazon.com/Breathe-conscious-breathing-wellbeing-happiness/dp/1409168328/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=ll1&tag=theheajou06-20&linkId=58eb8ef0313935cfbc89c1958139a50c. Accessed March 5, 2019.
2. The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions - Kindle edition by Esther M. Sternberg MD. Health, Fitness & Dieting Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/Balance-Within-Science-Connecting-Emotions-ebook/dp/B008KP36MG. Accessed March 5, 2019.