By Fariya Doctor, GCFP

It was The Feldenkrais Method that helped me discover that there wasn’t just one way to breathe. However, I still struggled with understanding and identifying why I was having so much trouble with breathing. After studying the science of breath and becoming a Buteyko Instructor all the pieces came together.

By honoring the beauty of self awareness and self discovery in the Method, I look to the present theories of Breath sciences to help deepen my understanding and enhance my abilities to self regulate with breath. Breath is everything and a cornerstone to our health and well-being.

One of the biggest AHA moments was when I discovered the physical, emotional and physiological effects of breathing through my nose. However, this is not new information. Shut Your Mouth, Save your Life was written by George Catlin in 1870! James Nestor highlights Mr. Catlin’s travels and discoveries in his book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art.

Nestor writes, “Like other parts of the body, the nasal cavities respond to whatever inputs it receives. When the nose is denied regular use, it will atrophy.”

That is not good news for our health, physically or mentally. 

To start here are some symptoms of chronic mouth breathing:

  1. Often out of breath and fatigued
  2. Increased anxiety
  3. Prone to asthma and exercise induced asthma
  4. Dry mouth in the morning and prone to dental problems
  5. Getting sick easily
  6. Sinus issues, stuffy nose
  7. Frequent coughing or throat clearing
  8. Feeling of oxygen hunger (not getting enough air)

When one switches to nose breathing this is what will happen:

  1. Improved Oxygen supply
  2. Improved Lung Capacity and diaphragm movement
  3. Faster exercise recovery
  4. Improved oxygen uptake to muscles, brain, and heart
  5. Calmer mental state
  6. Increased utilization of Nitric Oxide in the nasal passages
  7. Improved Memory and Sense of Smell
  8. Improved recovery from colds and flus

The change in my own breathing has been profound after I became consistent with nasal breathing in most of my activities.

In many of Dr. Feldenkrais’ lessons, he asks us to feel the air moving through the nostrils. A generous and potent series of breathing lessons is titled Rhythmic Breathing and all these lessons draw our attention to air in and out through the nose.

In a lesson called “Directed Breathing”, Dr. Feldenkrais directs us to “listen to the air coming through the nostrils and try to imagine where it goes.” It is a lesson that allows us to travel internally through spaces we can only imagine what it might look like, going back toward the palate and into the tubes called bronchi.

I have taught clients privately as well as in a workshop setting to help them get an understanding of what might be driving their breathing challenges and how to work with them

I help them listen to their breathing, guiding their awareness to different aspects of their breath, feeling the physical movement of the breath as it passes through the body. This process isn’t always easy, and sometimes switching to imagery is the best we can do, especially if the nose is congested. It can also take away the anxiety of “breathing right”. This brilliant lesson does just that. It is a fanciful journey of following a white dot or ball and pushing it along, plumbing the depths of our respiratory spaces.

The power of nasal breathing and utilizing our sinuses can not be taught without the awareness of speed and frequency of breaths. If a person breathes heavily and fast through the nose, that can cause irritation and inflammation to the passages. 

In another series of breathing lessons called ‘Rhythmic Breathing’ we are encouraged to breathe in 4 parts slowly, to interrupt our usual patterns of breathing and slowly inhale, pause, exhale, pause in 4 equal parts. This is asked during specific movements that are made in the lesson.

Making breathing light and slow as well as not interrupting it when we are moving can be a challenging task. We often will pair our breathing with an activity such as yoga poses, lifting heavy things, or playing a sport. An exhale is very useful during a powerful swing of a tennis racket or golf club to hit a ball. 

However, breathing can also be paired in an unhelpful way. If we perceive an activity to be difficult we might hold onto an inhale, thereby stiffening our chest. With these elegant ‘Rhythmic Breathing’ lessons Dr. Feldenkrais keeps bringing us back to breathing in 4 equal parts in an almost hypnotic way while we navigate demanding movements such as lifting our head, or sitting onto our feet. In the end we hopefully avoid stiffening our body or moving too quickly or causing ourselves pain. At one point he directs us to slow our rhythm and make the breath like an animal pretending it is dead. “They breathe, but without movement of the body parts and without noise. Of course, you will see that an animal, who pretends to be dead, is breathing.” Finding this kind of quiet breathing can be a very relaxing and rewarding experience, and it is often a big change from our habitual breathing patterns.

Nasal breathing also helps us feel our lungs better. Why is that? Try to breathe through the mouth and notice what movement you might feel in the ribs and lungs and then try a few breaths through the nose. For both ways sense into the chest, sides, back, costal border, and lower belly. The quality of breathing is different. I sometimes describe it as a more full body, three dimensional sensation when nose breathing.

To feel this distinction more clearly, I ask students to pause their breath longer after an exhale; from 10 to 20 seconds if they are comfortable. This creates a shift in the pattern of breathing and allows for an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm. If you were to try this and then inhale through the nose, that three dimensional full body breath can be much easier to sense.

Pausing the breath after an exhale can be a good reset, especially if you are feeling so much tension that you feel shortness of breath or that you “can’t get enough air”. This sensation of oxygen hunger is in fact oversensitivity to carbon dioxide. The less CO2 in your blood, the more tension you will feel. It sounds counterintuitive, but pausing works to improve CO2 levels! If you have a habit of mouth breathing, or fast breathing this is a good way to interrupt and reset a new pattern. If you are unfamiliar with pausing the breath, It sometimes will take a few attempts with perhaps a shorter pause time to feel the relief of tension. 

It is always surprising to me how prevalent Hyperventilation is. Hyperventilation is defined as breathing more than our physiological needs. Up to 10% of the general population, 29% of asthma sufferers and 75% of those with anxiety are breathing too fast or too much during the day. I describe it as revving your engine when your car is in park. You can imagine how this would stress a car, not unlike how it would cause strain on our heart and other organs.

There can be many conditions that might cause us to hyperventilate, however, most of the time it is a habit and this habit might be paired with a particular activity that demands a lot of focus and attention.

If you again think about that car engine, and Dr. Feldenkrais’s guidance, you would look to a breathing pattern that is humming gently in the background, providing enough nourishment of oxygen to run everything as it is needed with efficiency, and with the minimum of effort.

Many of the breathing lessons found in the Feldenkrais Method guide us to simplify our breathing and to breathe less. Here’s an instruction from one of these lessons.

“Pay attention to reduce the movement of the chest and abdomen as much as possible. This means to listen to the movement of air in the nostrils. Don’t engage the muscular feeling of intensifying the movement in the chest, diaphragm, and abdomen.. Do it so there won’t be any special large movements.”

Dr. Feldenkrais understood this imbalance that can be created when we overbreathe. Often his intention was to slowly reduce the work so that the ribs became more flexible and therefore more responsive to the lung tissue behind the rib cage.

I had a client that complained of air hunger. She felt it often and assumed that trying harder to breathe bigger would solve the problem. The only trouble with that strategy is that it had a habit of causing chest tightness, and shoulder stiffness. As a Buteyko Instructor and a Feldenkrais Practitioner I had many strategies to offer her so she could overcome this unpleasant feeling, one of them was asking her to pause her breath, as mentioned above, to help re-regulate the equilibrium between her in-breath and out-breath. 

These kinds of small manipulations in our breathing have big effects on our nervous system and help us navigate some of the more challenging experiences of our daily lives. In a pinch, if you want to slow your pulse, and calm yourself, simply pause the breath after you exhale and count to 5 or 10 or 15. Only pause to the point that it is comfortable for you. Repeat this a couple times and you may notice an immediate improvement. 

I read an article ten years ago, by Dr. Leon Chaitow D.O. Yes, it was another medical paper on Hyperventilation. I was very confused at the time because it said an increase in blood oxygen can cause panic! The research on breathing explained the importance of carbon dioxide in the relaxation of smooth muscles that line our blood vessels and bronchi. Too little carbon dioxide in our bloodstream causes anxiety and potentially leads to panic attacks.

If you have ever seen someone breathing into a paper bag during a panic attack, it can look pretty alarming. The purpose of the bag is to increase the amount of CO2 in our body rapidly when we are experiencing uncontrolled overbreathing. When we breathe into a confined space or container the amount of carbon dioxide becomes more concentrated.

In Feldenkrais terms this is an extreme version of “interrupting” our habit. By dramatically changing the rhythm and speed we are breathing, we alter the muscular habits of breathing and create big changes in how we feel in the moment. It is also therefore possible to create these kind of changes in a much calmer and less extreme way, with the effects being equally impressive.

If you’ve ever wondered if you are an overbreather, you can try the following. Simply exhale and wait. How long can you easily pause your breath? If you can not comfortably pause your breath for 20 seconds, you are likely overbreathing frequently in the day.

This tends to get easier the more you do it. As the tension reduces in the diaphragm attachments and the rib muscles, the fluid movement of expansion, contraction and pausing becomes increasingly delicious. 

The Feldenkrais and the Buteyko Methods are both very useful for identifying and then helping us with our individual breathing challenges. Through engaging consistently with both methods you can begin to find breathing a much more enjoyable experience and feel less restrictions and limitations in your daily lives. 

May the impossible, become possible, and then easy and finally elegant in your breathing.

To find out if you are successfully using your nose, here is a downloadable pdf called Awesome Nose Breather Checklist.

In the meantime I look forward to teaching at the upcoming FGNA Conference in September on the topic of breathing.

(Updated article – originally published – July 2022)

About Fariya

Fariya has over 30 years of experience in dealing with the art and science of healing the body. She is an experienced Registered Massage Therapist and a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner™ and Buteyko instructor. She has a Bachelor of Science degree at McMaster University (1990), a Massage Therapy Diploma at Sutherland-Chan Massage School (1993), Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner™ (2004) and certified in the Buteyko breathing method in 2020.

Fariya has continuously advanced her knowledge in bodywork, taking courses and workshops yearly. Her practice involves being a “movement detective” for people. Seeing glitches in a patient’s movement habits, she helps them correct and maintain better postural patterns. Fariya has a specialization in joint problems, chronic conditions, and respiratory issues. Due to her unique approach in rehabilitation, she receives patients throughout the Golden Horseshoe as well as “Over the River” in New York State. Fariya also provides online services, such as private care, and classes.

You can find out more on her website: