The Need to Evaluate the Efficacy of Breathing Practices

A recent encounter with a colleague’s father left me overwhelmed. He walks straight at the age of 92, has radiant skin and the only age related complications are impaired hearing and a couple of less teeth. Astonished to see such a sight, I asked him his secret. With a smile on his face, the old man replied, “Yoga and breathing exercise for 40 years straight’. 

Amazed at his reply, I wondered if I could achieve the same results. But the more perplexing questions were:

    • Which breathing exercise do I practice?
    • Do breathing techniques have the same results for everyone?
    • How will I assess the breathing technique’s effectiveness?

And the list went on…

breathing exercises

It is popular belief that guided and regular breathing exercises have demonstrated potential to significantly amplify health standards and also act as alternative medical practice for aiding asthma, anxiety and post-operative patients, to name a few. 

Tech giants like Apple, Fitbit and Garmin have imbibed app-based monitoring of our health parameters like heart rate, pulse rate and even breath rate. These new biodata trackers within their technological gifts feed researchers and professionals data necessary to make new medical breakthroughs.

Talking about benefits of guided breathing practices, the web comprises a wide canvas of studies that demonstrate health-related improvements in patients. However, the question of how effective these exercises are still remains to be answered with better data.

What does research say about the efficacy of breathing exercises?

lady doing breathing exercises

Regular breathing exercises help our lungs get rid of old air that has built up, boost oxygen levels, and get our diaphragm back to helping you breathe. Apropos to the literature available at our disposal, studies have showcased the benefits of guided breathing exercises.

One study published in the National Library of Medicine speaks of using the St. George’s Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) to monitor the efficacy of breathing exercises in asthma patients. 

Sixty patients were put on pranayama (a yogic breathing practice) for a duration of three months along with their dose of regular medication and the results indicated a significant decrease in SGRQ scores signifying an improvement in health parameters. These parameters included a decline in asthma symptoms and increase in lung activity. 

Similarly, another study in a health journal states that diaphragmatic breathing practices evidently lowers psychological and physiological stress. The research supports its claim following improvements in biomarkers of respiratory rate and salivary cortisol levels of the subjects. 

Apart from the above mentioned medical literature, there are scores of scholarly articles available that claim the universal fact- breathing practices make health better. 

Though the before and after of these studies have shown better results, evaluating the range of improvements still lies a mystery. Similarly, these articles mostly speak of evaluating guided breathing exercises on people with underlying conditions but we all know that a medically fit individual can get access to the advantages offered by the approach. 

Moreover, the post-pandemic world has imbibed a deep sense of delving into different breathing practices to boost our overall health.

How did the Covid pandemic influence our approach towards breathing?

The Covid-19 pandemic triggered an accelerated need of performing regular and guided breathing practices. While the virus was deadly on our lungs and most victims succumbed to lung failures, world health bodies advocated the need for including such practices in our daily routine. 

The mayhem caused by the pandemic allowed individuals to open themselves to the plethora of breathing practices at their disposal. But, mostly, deep breathing caught the attention. This form of exercise helped to increase diaphragmatic function and increase lung capacity to curb effects of the constantly mutilating menace.  

What is the need to evaluate breathing practices?

evaluate breathing practices

Today, not only has breathing practices evolved into an alternative way of medication but has the backing of therapists, vocal coaches and other professionals to boost mental and physical health. 

But the disparity kicks in when the effectiveness of such practices need to be evaluated. There are methods to check the performance of our respiratory system or whether a given breathing exercise aids in health improvement or not. There is a dearth of quantitative and qualitative data to join the dots. 

But with the growing number of individuals taking up different breathing practices the need to evaluate their efficacy is becoming the talk for researchers, professionals and medical practitioners. 

With experiences from such practices being in the subjective realm, large data sets are generally required to monitor their efficacy. Leveraging these data sets, the gap in research stands a chance to be fulfilled and the benefits can be reaped. 

Why is there no standard method to evaluate breathing practices?

breathing practices evaluation

It’s evident that there is no standard method to evaluate the efficacy of breathing practices. Researchers, doctors and professionals’ only source to know whether their suggested practice gives out positive results is from client experiences. App-based technological tools monitor our heart beat, pulse rate and respiratory rate to give an overall picture of our health.

So how do you know which breathing practice is suitable for you? The answer is obvious. 

Though there are tools like spirometry and pulse oximetry, the results aren’t always relevant. 

Spirometry assesses the functionality of the lungs by measuring the amount of air inhaled and exhaled and the duration of exhalation. It is generally used to diagnose asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other conditions that affect breathing. 

Pulse oximetry measures oxygen levels in the blood and evaluates how well it is being transported to different parts of the body from the heart. 

As you can visualize that these processes are solely developed to ascertain whether there is an underlying disease. But none can assess how well your breathing exercise is helping you. 

Breath Technologies is underway to develop the first breath wave monitoring device to unravel the mysteries associated with breath and the multitude of benefits that can be known if researchers get their hands on data sets to assess breath patterns. 

To further clear the air of mystery, the need of the hour is large data sets as outcomes of breathing exercises is more subjective than objective. And to evaluate their efficacy compilation of subjective data is mandated to derive objective outcomes. Like for a single practitioner belly breathing can reduce anxiety till 10 percent while for the other it can be 50 percent. 

But just like the Bermuda Triangle or the Stonehenge, it still is unclear which exercise best suits which individual. We all have individualized needs for optimal health. Connecting our mental, emotional, and physical wellness can only bring great benefits.

How can evaluating breathing practices prove beneficial?

breathing practices prove

Ancient practices of yoga, Tai Chi and Buddhism have their roots in breathing exercises. Though the present-day professionals mainly advocate them for reducing anxiety, stress or building a calm mind and increasing lung capacity, the benefits of them are manifold for each individual. 

Having said that, measuring their efficacy through subjective evaluation and obtaining objective results might open the floodgates for researchers and doctors. 

I finally asked the old man the questions that arose. But to my dismay he was out of answers. “To ascertain whether one practice will benefit every individual in the same proportion or intensity can only be assessed if quantitative and qualitative data is at our disposal,” were his leaving thoughts. In other words, to define how we breathe we need to learn more about ourselves.