How to stay healthy, deal with stress and perform better with this simple breathing technique
Ask anyone who knows me well, and they will tell you that my big mantra in life is, small changes add up to big things. I see it all the time when my patients successfully tackle huge challenges by making small, gradual and consistent changes. I see it in myself when I take on something crazy like running a half marathon. I get there by slowly making small changes to my daily running habit. And when it comes to breathing there is an incredibly simple, yet incredibly powerful habit that can have a big impact on our health. It is nose breathing. And it’s a habit that is definitely worth keeping.
Breathing is a function that is controlled by the brain and the body’s autonomic nervous system. This means breathing happens without us thinking about it. Even if we try to hold our breath, our body will kick into override and automatically take a breath. Pretty handy if you think about it!
We are very lucky that the vital function of breathing happens without us having to worry about it. But there’s a downside to autonomic function, it’s often forgotten. We mistakenly believe that our breathing is working just fine. The good news is we can override our breathing system with conscious breathing when a bad breathing habit is created.
How to know if you are a nose breather or a mouth breather
Okay, without thinking too much about it relax and take a few breaths. Did you take your in breath and out breath through the nose or the mouth? If you are breathing through the nose, well done. You’re breathing the right way for keeping your body balanced, calm and maintaining a healthy flow of blood and oxygen to the brain and body.
Now, if you are breathing through your mouth, it’s time to take a look at why. Mouth breathing is a habit, and we all know that habits can be broken! But first, let’s take a look at the difference between nasal breathing and mouth breathing and why nose breathing is better.
You breathe 17,000 times per day. That adds up to 6 million breaths a year. Make sure you’re doing it right.
#nosebreathing #breathingislife #breathebetter
Why nose breathing is better
- Unlike air coming in via the mouth, air coming in the nose must travel through two narrow passageways. This resistance to the intake of air slows things down, giving you a nice, deep, slow breathing pattern. The nose provides around 50% more resistance than the mouth does.
- When air enters the body through the nose it is warmed and humidified filtering the air before it gets to the lungs.
- Your nose has an inbuilt air-conditioning and filter system that acts as a guardian to the rest of the respiratory system. The fine hairs in the nasal passage pick up debris and clean out the nostrils. The mouth has no system like this that matches the filtration of the nose.
When we were babies, we would naturally breathe through our nose. Just watch any baby (as long as he or she is not suffering from a cold) and see how easily they can feed and breathe through the nose simultaneously. By the way, babies also have a wonderful tendency to naturally breathe from the belly. It’s a shame we have to grow up and become subjected to the illnesses, stress and bad habits that will cause us to deviate from the wonderful nourishment of deep, slow, nose breathing!
But unfortunately, growing up is inevitable, and as we grow up things can happen in life that causes us to switch to mouth breathing.
Why we mouth breathe when nose breathing is better
If nose breathing is best, why do we mouth breathe? There are four main reasons why we may end up breathing through the mouth:
- Nasal congestion or blocked nose: Nasal congestion can be caused by allergies, sinusitis (inflammation around the nasal passage often caused by a cold) or rhinitis (an allergic response causing irritation and swelling).
- Injury: An injury to the nose may change the shape of the nasal passage and result in blocked or reduced airflow into the nose.
- Bad habits: For most people, mouth breathing starts with a blocked or stuffy nose and ends up becoming a habit long after the blocked or stuffy nose has cleared up. Habits have a tendency to stick around, even if we don’t want them to.
- Stress: Oh yes, the dreaded S word. Stressful times can often leave us gasping for breath as we struggle with the flight or fight response. We all know the feeling of shallow breathing anxiety, another common response to stress. Nose breathing provides more resistance to airflow, making the diaphragm work harder and helping things stay calm. We miss out on this benefit when we are stressed and breathing through the mouth.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Mouth breathing is sometimes very useful. We need to be able to breathe through our mouth on occasions. Anyone who does any kind of strenuous exercise will know the feeling of panting to catch your breath after a long run or hard session at the gym. Breathing through the mouth allows us to get air to the lungs quickly and increase oxygen intake. And we all need mouth breathing when we gasp at a scary movie. But these are temporary situations.
For optimal health, we want to be able to return to nasal breathing as our standard way of breathing. Mouth breathing is only there as a backup when we need air quickly.
Why does it matter how we breathe?
When you breathe through the mouth, the lack of resistance to air intake causes faster breathing and often, breathing into the upper chest. The knock-on effect of this bad breathing pattern will affect blood chemistry and blood flow around the body. It can also be a driver for breathing pattern disorders and the myriad symptoms that go along with it. Learning to breathe through the nose allows your body to function at its optimal level. You are allowing a healthy flow of blood and oxygen to enter the brain and the body and your body will thank you for it.
Learning to breathe through the nose allows your body to function at its optimal level.
You are allowing a healthy flow of blood and oxygen to enter the brain and the body and your body will thank you for it. #nosebreathingisbest #bigexhales #breathewell
How to break your mouth breathing habit
A great way to break the mouth breathing habit is to pay attention to your breathing. To do this, you can focus on the cold air coming through the nasal passages and down the back of the throat. And then focus on the warm air coming out of your nose and onto your upper lip when you breathe out to help lengthen the out breath.
The most effective and optimum breathing pattern is slow (around 8-10 breaths per minute), deep (from the belly), nose breathing. The reduced breathing rate increases the carbon dioxide levels in the blood and allows the body to return to calm and leave the stressed state. This has an extraordinary impact on your ability to let go of sadness, anxiety, anger, pain, and find clarity.
To learn more about how emotions link with breathing patterns check out Emma Seppala’s TEDx talk on breathing happiness. Taking a mindful pause to breathe well can be the difference between feeling energised or utterly exhausted at the end of the day. Having the skill to breathe properly is widely regarded as one of the most significant ways to deal with both physical and psychological pain.
Taking a mindful pause to breathe well can be the difference between feeling energised or utterly exhausted at the end of the day.
Need a bit more help? Breathe Right & Reduce Your Stress course where you can learn to retrain your system for effective and efficient breathing. There are loads of easy breathing exercises and technique for getting you back on track for nose breathing you can do it all from the comfort of your home!
How do I nose breathe when I have a blocked nose?
If you’re blaming your mouth breathing on a blocked or stuffy nose, then it’s time to tackle the problem. There are ways to clear a blocked nose such as a method known as sinus rinsing where a saline solution is used to flush the nasal passage. In some cases, it may be necessary to use antihistamines to unblock sinuses. If simple techniques such as these are not effective, it is important to go and see your GP to determine the cause of the issue.
I dive much deeper into ways to tackle mouth breathing in my 30-Day online breathing course, Breathe Right Course. I teach options like alternative nasal breathing and mouth taping.
Nose is King
The humble nose. It plays a much bigger role in keeping us calm, happy and healthy than you may think. Thanks to the nose, you can practice long, slow exhales to signal to the brain that it is safe to relax the body and mind.
Over the next few days, pay attention to where you breathe. Notice when your body switches to mouth breathing and try to bring it back to nose breathing if you can. Remember it’s normal to switch to mouth breathing if you’re exercising or need to increase oxygen intake. Just remember to switch back to nasal breathing as soon as you can. See if you feel calmer when you are focusing on deep, long breaths from the nose.
And like anything in life, it all becomes a lot easier when it’s a habit.
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