Breathing - Don’t I Just Do It?
By Cole Clayton MHlth (Clin Rehab), Cert HProm, BFA
I once got an email from a client who was referred by a dentist that went something like:
“I don’t see any point as to why I should pay you to teach my daughter to breathe when she does that all day everyday anyway!”
Fair enough, that program didn’t go ahead.
She had her point though, because on the surface it’s a logical position to assume, especially for kids right?
Well, stick with me because what I want to show you in this post is why this subject is really worth thinking about beyond the obvious that “because my kid is alive they are therefore breathing”.
True. But kind of like living no? Some of us really live life and give it our all, especially in parenting, but we all know that person that whinges about how hard life is.
One is living, one is survival, and sadly, these days many kids are experiencing undetected breathing related problems that can severely impact their experience of life or worse, the way they are labelled.
I know this first hand, I was one of them. More on that later though.
Firstly, let’s consider the model that will form the basis of this post. I learnt this model through a great friend and mentor Dr Rosalba Courtney. Dr Courtney is a practitioner and researcher who works with breathing and the breath and has published numerous articles on the subject (www.rosalbacourtney.com).
During the course of her PhD she refined, developed and applied a model functional breathing. As part of this, she categorised the influence of breathing on 3 key areas of human function as follows (1):
- Bio-mechanics of breathing
- Bio-Chemistry of breathing
- Psycho-Physical nature of breathing
At Happy Kids Klinic we haven’t found a kid that really lights up on this wording though, so I put a kid-centric spin on her framework, a repackaging of sorts to:
- Muscles, bones and joints that help us breathe
- Blood and Guts - how does breathing effect them?
- Moods and how breathing can help them out
I love this structure of Rosalba's because it includes every system that breathing influences and every system that will influence breathing.
So let’s bring it back to you and your kids...
Many children for just as many reasons, have an issue with their breathing in one or more of these areas. Let’s have a look at some common patterns you might recognise for each.
Please note - this does not act as any kind of diagnostic tool or definitive causation, it’s just a road sign that points to “hmmm that’s interesting, let’s look further into this”. Many signs and symptoms overlap across lists but for simplicity’s sake lets lay it out in broad brush strokes.
Some common symptoms associated with:
Muscles, bones and joints
- Sore necks and upper backs that don’t respond to treatments as they should
- Mouth breathing (open mouth) during the day time and especially during sleep
- Tongue sticking out between the teeth or sitting at the bottom of the mouth
- Dribbling and drooling especially overnight
- Teeth grinding at night
- General “clumsiness” usually described as “they’re always falling over their own feet!”
- Constant blocked noses and recurring colds that seem to run for months at a time
- Recurring headaches
Blood and Guts
- Tired and grumpy in the mornings
- Getting “puffed” easily, lack of stamina during physical activity and/or sports
- Snoring and breath holding during sleep
- Taking ages to get to sleep
- Thrashing around during sleep
- Bed wetting
- Lack of concentration ability
- Excessive anger, aggression or easily frustrated
- Whinging and tired for no good or apparent reason
- Nervousness and anxiety beyond expected
- Chewing habits - nail biting, shirt or pen chewing, hair pulling, extended thumb sucking
Of course your child may only have one, two or a mix of these and it’s also important to note as above, they don’t necessarily all mean there’s breathing issues, nor that a breathing program is the be all and end all answer.
That said, many kids have improved on these and others from following a very simple breathing education and training protocol.
You may also be looking at the list and thinking it looks a bit fanciful that all this relates to breathing, so let’s now break a few of the main ones down and learn exactly why they relate to breathing or point to breathing problems.
1. Mouth Breathing
Mouth breathing is a big issue in today’s society, especially for children (2, 3, 4). The main reason mouth breathing is an issue from my perspective is simple; it’s not the way we are meant to breathe at rest!
Mouth breathing is available to us as a “back up” mode of respiration when we have an obstructed or blocked nose and when we are talking a lot and for vigorous exercise! It should not be our normal breathing at rest, that’s using the back up system as the primary system… a sure way to backfire any system in life!
Given the importance of breathing for humans, the body will always compensate and adjust things to accomodate it but as with all systems this can have ramifications “down the line” and mouth breathing places extra load on the body, including the crucial development of growing brains and nervous systems (5).
The nose is designed to prepare air for our body by filtering, warming and humidifying the air we breathe (6). Mouth breathers simply don’t utilise this capacity because there is no hairs, mucus or extended time when breathing through the mouth.
In addition, the mouth breather often breathes their air much faster, meaning the muscles bones and joints that help us breathe are often overworked and faulty breathing patterns result, which create postural tensions and imbalances plus effect the ventilation and perfusion of oxygen in the lungs (7).
In short it’s fair to say, breathe through your nose at rest. If breathing through the nose is difficult or non-existent for your child then firstly and importantly, we need to find out why and secondly we need to teach them how to learn to use it again.
I recently heard a sleep scientist with a PhD talk about snoring versus sleep apnea. Both of these effect the brain development and rational thinking ability of growing kids but snoring is far more prevalent. Some estimated 50% of children snore while asleep (8). While this may seem cute or funny it is a very serious issue.
Kids who snore will often be more tired, grumpy and irritable compared to their non-snoring counterparts, have more trouble learning and understanding and can also tend to be more withdrawn socially. I know all this first hand as I grew up with snoring and sleep disordered breathing as a youngster.
The kind of labels I received at that time were; “lazy”, “unmotivated”, “grumpy”, ‘shy” and that old chestnut, “he has potential”.
I have found that working to retrain the breathing doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with eliminating snoring in all cases, but anecdotally I have seen a lot of great changes from simple re-education of day time breathing habits.
There are many factors that go into the snoring recipe but breathing is a big part of the mix and if there’s no good reason why not, then it’s well worth considering. They may thank you later, or worse, not thank you if you don’t take action!
Describing the complexity of anxiety in children is beyond this post, however it’s worth noting how breathing can affect the brain and it’s natural rhythms.
In late 2016, a quite remarkable scientific study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience that showed nasal breathing; “entrains human limbic oscillations and modulates cognitive function” (9).
What does this mean?
In short, it means that if we don’t breathe through the nose at rest it effects the part of the brain that processes and regulates emotions (limbic system) resulting in an impaired ability to think straight (modulation of cognitive function).
Remember my labels as a kid?
It wasn’t just me being lazy and unmotivated….
All night since about the age of ten I experienced mouth open breathing, snoring, periods of breath holding during sleep and waking up exhausted.
There is a mounting pile of evidence in mainstream medicine now showing that this kind of problem during sleep severely impacts the neurological development of children’s growing brains.
Bringing this back to anxiety, in light of the information above, it’s not too big a leap to assume that breathing issues such as mouth breathing changing the way the brain processes and regulates emotions can lead to a disrupted emotional state!
As I said above, it’s not the only factor in a kid’s life that may produce anxiety but there are two key points to consider relative to retraining a child’s breathing;
1. If there are multiple factors contributing to anxiety, dealing successfully with one of them (breathing) has to help the picture overall
2. If we give a child a tool like breathing retraining, an understanding of the mechanisms of how breathing changes when we get scared and some simple tools to implement when they do feel worried or anxious; then we’ve given them some hugely useful knowledge and skills to increase resilience. Now to tackle screens and the education system…in another post…
As you can see, I have only addressed three out of a possible twenty symptoms I originally listed! This post could get mighty long if we went through them all, but I what I hoped to highlight is something I hear parents say time and time again when they sit down with their kids to learn about breathing;
“Wow, I didn’t know THAT about breathing”
“Wow, I didn’t realise breathing influenced so many different things”
This mirrors my own journey in many ways, in the sense that I knew breathing was important as I studied art, exercise, corrective exercise, massage, nutrition, meditation, didgeridoo and spirituality in my search for an “answer” to my problems.
Finally at 33 I went on a fairly rudimentary two day breathing course and had that moment everyone waits for..
The moment I realised “that IS ME”. The guy is talking about all these children and that’s totally how I was! How I STILL AM!!
It wasn’t until I had researched this some more then applied the same principles I use to this day to retrain breathing that all the study and life path actually started to make sense. I started to have some context and the future path of my life became much clearer.
It’s this path that has me writing to you about this today.
I figured, then in my early thirties that if I had someone teach me and my parents all this stuff at age ten, a lot of issues, a lot of heart ache and a lot of frustration would have been prevented.
So I did it.
Right there on the spot I decided to figure out the best way to teach kids the seemingly forgotten, or perhaps more correctly, overlooked art of breathing.
In time, this led me to cement my vision and create Happy Kids Klinic as a way of helping and reaching as many kids as possible that need this simple but much needed education, so they don’t have the same developmental and “labelling” problems I did or at least it might be a part of the puzzle.
Perhaps this explains why I am passionate and dedicated to kids health but I truly hope for one thing, that if your child has these signs of breathing dysfunction, they get some help and stay on track with their breathing!
If you have got this far into this post chances are YOU are that person who will take action and whether you use our products and services and Happy Kids Klinic or another platform or practitioner I truly wish you one thing - all the health and happiness your kids deserve.
Cole Clayton has been working with kids breathing programs for the last 6 years. Originally trained in Art he followed his other passion for health and wellness into personal training, corporate health and rehabilitation until a chance meeting with a dentist changed his outlook and opened up a new "rabbit hole" of learning and exploration, culminating in studying a Masters in Health and commencing studies towards becoming a qualified osteopath.
Cole lives on the North Coast of NSW with his family and "Mr Hair" the ginger rescue cat.
1. Courtney R 2017 Integrative Breathing Therapy - Professional Training Course 2017. Self Published Manual
2. Trabalon, M., & Schaal, B. (2012). It takes a mouth to eat and a nose to breathe: abnormal oral respiration affects neonates' oral competence and systemic adaptation. International journal of pediatrics, 2012.
3. Guilleminault, C., & Sullivan, S. S. (2014). Towards restoration of continuous nasal breathing as the ultimate treatment goal in pediatric obstructive sleep apnea. Enliven: Pediatr Neonatol Biol, 1(1), 001.
4. Guilleminault, C., & Akhtar, F. (2015). Pediatric sleep-disordered breathing: New evidence on its development. Sleep medicine reviews, 24, 46-56.
5. Kuroishi, R. C. S., Garcia, R. B., Valera, F. C. P., Anselmo-Lima, W. T., & Fukuda, M. T. H. (2015). Deficits in working memory, reading comprehension and arithmetic skills in children with mouth breathing syndrome: analytical cross-sectional study. Sao Paulo Medical Journal, 133(2), 78-83.
6. West, J. B. (2012). Respiratory physiology: the essentials. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
7. Chaitow, L., Gilbert, C., & Morrison, D. (2014). Recognizing and Treating Breathing Disorders E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences.
8. Lecture by Dr James De-Pascale, Gold Coast 2018
9. Zelano, C., Jiang, H., Zhou, G., Arora, N., Schuele, S., Rosenow, J., & Gottfried, J. A. (2016). Nasal respiration entrains human limbic oscillations and modulates cognitive function. Journal of Neuroscience, 36(49), 12448-12467.