Five Foundational Habits for Health: Breathing
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Throughout my life, I’ve gotten used to living in utter chaos. Through growing up with divorced parents; playing college basketball, taking 19 credits and working full-time while completing my bachelor’s degree in exercise science; commuting every week during grad school; and finally, giving birth to two amazingly wonderful, yet challenging boys only 16 months apart, I learned to thrive during instability. The only problem with this method of living? All my priorities landed outside of myself. 

I still wear many hats—wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, researcher, physical therapist, coffee boss (co-owner) and now small business owner of my own physical therapy practice. However, it’s now a more organized, or prioritized, chaos. What’s changed? I’ve realized I need to take care of myself, in order to take care of others.

In 2017 I had a 2-and-a-half-year-old and 14-month-old and had accepted what was my dream job as a neurologic physical therapist for the number-one hospital in the nation. My family of four packed up and moved 84 miles from comfort. My husband started commuting for over an hour one way. That year I remember suffering extreme stress, experiencing multiple illnesses and finding myself in the emergency room with a resting heart rate over 150 beats per minute. With medication, I was able to manage these side effects of stress and anxiety, but by December 2019, I was the heaviest I had ever been and felt tired all the time. Something needed to change. So, I started my own health journey—and that is how I discovered what I’ll share with you next. The top-five foundational habits missing from your routine—breathing, sleep, vagus nerve exercises, thoracic (mid-back) mobility and core stability. For this article, we will focus on breathing.


If you’re like me, maybe you catch yourself holding your breath when you’re under stress. In his book “Atomic Focus,” Patrick Mckeown discusses how to regulate the nervous system through slow, rhythmic breaths to encourage a parasympathetic state. When we hold our breath, it triggers a sympathetic, or “fight or flight,” response. 

Traditionally, we have been taught to inhale through our nose and exhale slowly through our mouths. However, purely nose breathing introduces many benefits: 

  • Increased oxygen delivered to working muscles
  • Improved recovery, reduced injury risk 
  • Improved activation of your core
  • Balanced nervous system—decreased anxiety and lower oxidative stress

Here’s what you can do today to gain these benefits:  

  • Download a breathing app to give you reminders to focus on your breath for one minute three times a day.
  • Transition over to breathing only through your nose (this includes inhale and exhale).
  • When training, instead of taking deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, try maintaining a slow, steady rhythm, in and out through your nose; you may need to slow down your exercise activity to do this.
  • Practice breath holding exercises to work your diaphragm: Inhale for a count of four through your nose, exhale for a count of four, then hold for a count of five. 

Next month, we will dive into the importance of sleep and how to maximize it! 

Dr. Crystal Whitmarsh, PT, DPT, NCS
Whitmarsh Health & Wellness, LLC
(507) 339-5239

About Author

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Dr. Crystal Whitmarsh is the owner of Whitmarsh Health and Wellness, LLC, and co-owner of Trail Creek Coffee Roasters in Kasson, Minnesota. She is a board-certified physical therapist. She was raised by a single mother in upper Michigan where she played college basketball for 4 years at Finlandia University. During that time, she found a love of serving her community which developed her servant leadership philosophy through outreach and volunteer work. After graduating in 2006 with her associate degree, she moved to Minnesota with her husband and began working as a physical therapist assistant. She continued her educational journey and completed her Bachelor’s in Exercise Science from Minnesota State University, Mankato in 2010 and in 2013 she obtained her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences. She is the first female in her family to attain a terminal degree. In addition to Dr. Whitmarsh’s academic accomplishments, and while working full time and serving in her community, she and her husband opened their coffee roasting business in their home under the Minnesota cottage food exemption in 2017. During this time, she focused on advertising and networking strategies, specifically trying to collaborate with non-profit or locally run businesses. She has been engaged in multiple business-related platforms including the Women’s Entrepreneur Forum, the Chamber of Commerce, Master Networks, and The Full Circle. In January of 2023, Dr. Whitmarsh launched Whitmarsh Health and Wellness, LLC, a private physical therapy practice. Her mission is to evaluate, elevate, and empower people who desire to improve their health by optimizing their brain and body through individualized physical therapy to provide lifelong wellness.

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