Breathing is both a reflex and a behavior. As a behavior, it is subject to change as we go through life experiences, and it’s rarely for the better. Traumas in life, especially during the developmental years when there are few coping skills, have a considerable subconscious impact on arousal levels and vulnerability. This impacts the breathing habit and much more. Here are a few examples of stresses or traumas to illustrate the point:

  • Stresses on an expectant mother and the baby within. Parental arguments, substance abuse, poor nutrition/hydration/sleep/exercise, illness, anxiety and associated disrupted physiology.
  • Poor nutrition during early childhood.
  • Bottle feeding instead of breastfeeding.
  • Bullying or excess mental stress.
  • Excessive crying. This can often turn into a mouth-breathing habit.
  • Sinus colds or allergies.

Many of these experiences, when repetitive, will create a mouth-breathing habit that is very difficult to undo without formalized instruction and training.   This is especially true if mouth breathing inadvertently occurs during sleep.


All these and more are likely to cause a change in breathing and affect the rate, depth, whether it’s from the mouth/nose/belly/chest. This change has a high potential of becoming a habit — A less functional habit.

Dramatic experiences later in life can also change the breathing habit. For instance, surgery near the diaphragm (e.g. appendix removal, C-section) or allergies. When exercising, many assume that more oxygen is required so they breathe through the mouth. Without making a conscious choice the change can become a habit. Even if we normally breathe through our nose and use our diaphragm, emotional states while we work, talk to others or drive in traffic may have us over-aroused and breathing in ways that don’t serve us. Chronic asthmatics often use accessory muscles to breathe with the chest as opposed to diaphragmatic breathing.

Here are a few of the more notorious factors that contribute to a dysfunctional breathing habit:

  • Clogged sinuses/allergies set up over-breathing through the mouth.
  • Mental chatter. Certain thoughts trigger feelings which trigger a change arousal… so breathing picks up to prepare for fight or flight.
  • Over stimulation changes the pH in the body. Arousal without accompanied muscle or brain exercise lends itself to over-breathing.
  • Over-eating/acidic meals (processed food, sugars, bad fats, excess protein). These change the pH in the body which is then compensated for by extra breathing which when occurring with enough frequency becomes a habit.
  • A chronic cough
  • Chronic stress/hypervigilance
  • Body pain or surgery
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Excessive crying
  • Breathing exercises/yoga that has one taking deep breaths for a whole hour.
  • Infection (high body temps)… increases breathing.
  • Mouth breathing for any reason – day or night.