The Myth of Deep Breathing

I trained in tae kwon do for a cou­ple of years.  It was a lot of fun and I’ve nev­er been in quite as good shape.  But there was one thing about the class that repeat­ed­ly irked me.  It was an extreme­ly minor thing, actu­al­ly.  I should have ignored it.  But it irked me any­way.

We’d be doing some pro­found­ly pun­ish­ing car­dio-tax­ing exer­cise.  And as we all were left pant­i­ng and gasp­ing for air, our instruc­tor, to help us recov­er oxy­gen bal­ance quick­er, would say – “Now breathe deeply!”

Now why would that innocu­ous remark dri­ve me nuts?

Are There Deep Breathing Benefits?

Peo­ple assume that deep breath­ing is more effi­cient, or will take in oxy­gen more quick­ly, or that it’s some­how just…better.

Except that it isn’t.

The body is real­ly bril­liant at opti­miz­ing itself.  When you’re out of breath, your body (in most cas­es) will auto­mat­i­cal­ly adopt the opti­mal rate and rhythm of breath­ing to rush oxy­gen back to your brain (and oth­er body tis­sues).

Those quick pant­i­ng breaths that you use when you’ve just fin­ished a spin­ning class?  They actu­al­ly take in oxy­gen and shed car­bon diox­ide more effi­cient­ly than deep­er breaths.

Deep breath­ing does fill the lungs more per breath, but each breath takes longer, and wastes ener­gy expand­ing your rib cage to the max.

Sum­ma­ry.  Dur­ing and after exer­tion, don’t try to arti­fi­cial­ly impose a “prop­er” breath­ing rate on your body.  Allow your body to auto­mat­i­cal­ly set its rate and rhythm.  It’s smarter than you are.


A vul­ture boards an air­plane, car­ry­ing two dead rac­coons. The
flight atten­dant looks at him and says, ‘I’m sor­ry, sir, only one car­rion
allowed per pas­sen­ger.’



Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

The art of breath­ing

Bust­ing the big lungs myth


About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods.

His website,, provides more information about his approach.

Please contact him at or at 212-400-9663.

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One Response to The Myth of Deep Breathing

  1. Brian says:

    I agree.

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