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Guest post by Dr. Perry Nickelston.
You can live several weeks without food, several days without water, but only several minutes without oxygen. Breathing is sorta, kinda, maybe a little important. But not all breathing is created equal. Let me begin by saying there is no wrong way to breathe, there are only different ways to breathe. Each breathing technique provides different advantages for the body so it is important to explore a variety of them with variation and variability.
I also want to distinguish between breathing and respiration. Respiration is a nonconscious survival activity. Air in, air out; it happens without thinking. Breathing, on the other hand, requires intention and attention in order for it to become nonconscious. The most powerful thing you can control is where you choose to breathe from. Are you inhaling and exhaling through your nose or your mouth? This single decision has a substantial impact on your physical and emotional well-being. It sounds trivial but it’s not.
A Simple Test
I’d like you to try a little experiment right now so you can feel and experience the difference between oral and nasal breathing for yourself.
Sit comfortably on the edge of a chair with your knees bent and feet flat. Relax your arms by your side and maintain a tall spine, like a balloon tied to your head is lifting it towards the sky. In other words, no slouching! Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Where are you inhaling and exhaling from? The nose or the mouth? Now take a deep inhale and exhale through your mouth three times, taking note of your body’s movements. Where do you expand? Where do you feel tension or pressure? Is it your shoulders, neck, back, chest, head, etc.? With oral breathing, you should feel more movement in the chest, shoulders, and neck. Now switch to inhale and exhale through the nose for three deep breaths. What differences do you feel? Where do you feel tension or pressure? With nasal breathing, you should feel more motion in the lower ribs and abdomen.
Was it easier to expand the belly when breathing through your mouth or your nose? Not sure? Try this: Alternate oral and nasal breathing. Take one deep breath in and out through the mouth, then one deep breath in and out through the nose. Alternate for three repetitions each and compare the sensations. Paying more attention to each breath is your first fundamental lesson in breathing.
Why Nasal Breathing is so Powerful for Your Health
These quick experiments should have demonstrated how much more relaxed and centered your body feels with nasal breathing vs oral breathing. What else is so powerful about breathing in and out through the nose?
- Nose hair is a natural filtration system that allows your nose to catch particulates from the air. This enables your nose to actively contribute to your immune system by filtering bad stuff. Additionally, air is warmed and moistened as it’s filtered, making it easier for the nervous system to regulate body temperature.
- Breathing in through the nose releases nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is one of the most important molecules for blood vessel health. It’s a vasodilator, meaning it relaxes the inner muscles of your blood vessels, causing the vessels to widen. In this way, nitric oxide increases blood flow, lowers blood pressure, and increases oxygen delivery to tissues throughout the body. Nitric oxide is produced by the sinuses and is not released when you breathe via the mouth.
- Nasal breathing creates a high pressure spiraling effect delivering air and oxygen to the lower parts of the lungs. This is critical because a substantial amount of blood platelets resides in the lungs. Red blood cells and platelets are fundamental to recovery, regeneration, and energy production.
- Nasal breathing increases expansion in the lower part of the ribcage in what we call “360 barrel breathing,” which optimally engages the diaphragm. When you breathe via the nose, you don’t have to think about breathing with the diaphragm, it just happens. Diaphragmatic breathing moves your internal organs, which is critical to optimal body function. The pressure change from the diaphragm descending on the inhale and ascending on the exhale acts as a pump for your abdominal contents. Organ movement increases blood flow and lymphatic flow to better deliver nutrients and remove toxins.
How to Improve Nasal Breathing
If you struggle to breathe via the nose, how can you improve? Practice. It takes an intentional, conscious effort to breathe more through your nose. Here are some action steps you can take to improve nasal breathing.
Special note: If you have a physiological restriction to nasal breathing because of a deviated septum or facial trauma, you may need to get those resolved before developing this technique.
- Several times throughout the day, take note of your breathing patterns. Keep a scratchpad to write down if you are breathing through your nose or your mouth. Make a special effort to nasal breathe during physical activity. Try this with walking first before attempting it during more demanding activities.
- Mouth breathing is very common at night, as people often reflexively open their mouths while sleeping. This can lead to increased stress, decreased carbon dioxide removal, poor oxygen delivery, and chronic inflammation. Taping the mouth shut is your best option to help maintain restorative sleep. Purchase special mouth tape that is easier on the sensitive skin of the face. Keep in mind you may only be able to do this for several minutes in the beginning. Some people go through a panic response so start small and move at your own pace.
When people ask me what type of breathing technique is best for the body, my answer is always the same: Nasal breathing. You should change things up by breathing in different ways to give the body novelty and make it more adaptable. However, nasal breathing should be your setpoint. Now let’s get to it. Say hi to your nose!
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P.S. Leave a comment down below if you have any questions!
What is Nasal Breathing?
It's the ability breathe through your nose. It’s important to pay attention to how you breathe. In general, it’s healthier to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth. That’s because nose breathing is more natural and helps your body effectively use the air you inhale.
Is Nasal Breathing Better?
In general, it's healthier to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth. That's because nose breathing slows the process down, is more natural and helps your body effectively use the air you inhale.