How To Breathe Better – And Get Faster – By Reading This Book!

October 6, 2021
Two books taught me how to breathe better, reduce serious asthma and VCD symptoms with less medication, and be able to race again!

How To Breathe Better - And Get Faster - By Reading These Two Books

Over the past year, two books taught me how to breathe better, and, as a person with lifelong significant asthma, I’ve made more permanent progress with the books than with medications and allergy shots.

Three Steps to Increasing Breathing Capacity

  1. Stop the loss of CO2 by breathing through your nose and not sighing or taking big breaths.
  2. Improve your tolerance of CO2 by practicing to tolerate a hunger for air. 
  3. Simulate high-altitude training by tolerating more CO2 in your system and reducing the number and volume of your breathing.

How To Breathe Better – And Get Faster – By Reading Books

Over the past year, two books taught me how to breathe better, and, as a person with lifelong significant asthma, I’ve made more permanent progress with the books than with medications and allergy shots.

Asthma Has Been a Lifelong Limiter

Since I was a young boy, my asthma has been pretty severe. 

I’ve been in ERs more times than I could ever count with asthma attacks that didn’t stop with the usual albuterol. 

I never felt like I reached my running or cycling potential because I wasn’t able to breathe better.

And in the last 10 or so years, though, the usual asthma meds weren’t working either. 

If I did any hard efforts on my bike or running, my lungs felt like they just closed up. 

I DNF’d dozens of races because I simply could not breathe. 

Vocal Cord Dysfunction

A pulmonary doctor diagnosed vocal cord dysfunction, or its new fancier name, paradoxical vocal fold movement.

VCD mimics asthma because as the vocal cords swell and close, I’m unable to suck in air. 

I learned several techniques on how to breathe better, many of which seemed like I was snorting cocaine or something (I’ve never snorted cocaine, to be clear…). 

The techniques, though, never fully worked. 

I still had troubles breathing, albuterol and other meds did not help, and I was unable to fully breathe in races. 

Breath, and The Oxygen Advantage

First of all, I read Breath by James Nestor, an Outside Magazine writer who writes about the history of breathing, how our modern society is doing it all wrong, and how it is still possible to learn to breathe better.

I read Patrick McKeown’s book The Oxygen Advantage, and everything changed. 

I’ve been doing hard intervals on the bike all summer without a problem. 

I have not been able to eliminate all of my asthma symptoms, but there’s been amazing progress.

There are two keys to McKeown’s techniques: breathing through your nose and learning to tolerate CO2. 

He says we are chronic overbreathers and chronic mouth breathers, both of which have long-lasting effects on our overall health and fitness. 

Improve Your Bolt Score

We start with a BOLT (body oxygen level test) where we measure how long it takes after a full exhale that we feel the need to breathe. 

The goal is to get a BOLT score of over 40. 

I started with BOLT in the teens, and I’m up to the 20s now. 

There’s still a long way to go to learn how to breathe better. 

Three Steps to Increasing BOLT Score

  1. Stop the loss of CO2 by breathing through your nose and not sighing or taking big breaths.
  2. Improve your tolerance of CO2 by practicing to tolerate a hunger for air. 
  3. Simulate high-altitude training by tolerating more CO2 in your system and reducing the number and volume of your breathing. 

Nose-Breathing Helps Keep Me in the Right Zones

One of the best tools for me to learn how to breathe better is using nose-breathing while I ride my bike.

Nose-breathing guarantees that I’m in the aerobic, fat-burning zone. 

If I start pedaling too hard and start to breathe from my mouth, I slow down. 

I fully acknowledge, it’s really a challenge to change your breathing patterns!

I have to literally count my nose breaths to make sure I’m doing them. 

When I’m doing intervals or racing, I keep my tongue against the back of my top teeth to limit mouth breathing as much as possible.

Tolerating CO2 is “Legal Blood Doping”

Nose-breathing and learning to tolerate increased CO2 is, in McKeown’s words, “the ideal tool for boosting performance legally.”

When you are able to subject your body to reduced oxygen levels, simulating high-altitude training, your body has to make all sorts of adaptations that force a greater oxygenation of your blood. 

This legal “blood doping” increases your natural EPO and your red blood cell count and volume, which, in turn, increases your VO2 max.

One of the points of breathing devices is to improve lung function by making your lungs work harder for the air. 

Breathing Better Means Daily Practice

The Oxygen Advantage program requires daily practice in how to breathe better.. 

I often practice while taking walks with Joy the Downward Dog. 

But I often forget, which is odd since it’s been such a useful tool. 

Another suggestion from the book is to sleep with tape over my mouth to encourage nose breathing

It was strange the first few times, but I’m used to it. 

My wife tells me I don’t snore at all when I use the tape. 

The fun game in the morning is to find where the tape went to if it fell off! 

Nose Breathing and Movement in Yoga to Breathe Better

During my yoga classes, I teach two things about breathing that you don’t normally hear in yoga. 

One, breathe in and out “normally” through your nose. 

While there are many yoga breathing techniques, we typically inhale through our noses and take long exhales through our mouths

Two, keep your body moving with the breath. Relax during the inhale, extend during the exhale. 

The latter is about research that shows that static stretching – or holding a pose – doesn’t do much for mobility.

But the former – nose breathing – is all about fitness, improving your focus, and, most importantly to me, “fixing” my asthma.

If You Have Asthma, Read This!

A lot of years have gone by with no real change in the quality of my breathing, despite lots of doctors and lots of medication.

The Oxygen Advantage is something all asthmatics should read

The breathing techniques are a natural way to re-teaching us to breathe in ways that help our long-term health. 

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