What if there was one simple practice that could profoundly impact your physical and mental health?
What if this practice took only a few seconds and could transform your entire day?
Would it be valuable for you? Would it be worth implementing in your life?
The good news is that the solution is not only right under your nose, it is your nose. It’s nasal breathing!
You may be familiar with “mouth-breathing” by way of Napolian Dynamite or more recently Stranger Things. But since the health implications here almost outweigh the societal ones, we’ll stay focued on those.
The breathing process is natural and automatic, so we generally take it for granted. We do it every second of every day. Seldom, if ever, do we stop to think about how vital our breathing is to our physical and mental health. Each breath influences the amount of oxygen that is distributed to your cells via approximately 100,000 miles of blood vessels throughout your body.
Here’s the catch: much of the time, especially when we are under stress or exerting ourselves, our unconscious default is to breathe through the mouth. Many of us breathe through our mouths throughout the day. Also, the habitual way we’ve trained ourselves to breath is either too shallow, too rapid or both. This can contribute to, compound, or perpetuate a variety of breathing disorders.
The way we breathe can significantly impact our overall physical and mental health.
Patrick McKeown, a trainer of the Buteyko Breathing Technique, has made nasal breathing his life’s work. During his childhood, McKeown was diagnosed with chronic asthma and he suffered from multiple respiratory disorders including Rhinitis and sleep-disordered breathing. He battled these issues for over 2 decades before he discovered the power of focused and intentional nasal breathing. He came across a publication which described an experimental breathing technique discovered by a Russian physiologist named Konstantin Buteyko. That discovery changed his life.
The technique focuses on three qualities:
McKeown believes this type of focused, intentional nasal breathing is the secret to optimal physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. He discovered that many of us mouth-breathe throughout the day and while exercising, such as in Inferno Hot Pilates or even Yoga class (despite the teachers’ plea that you Breathe Through Your Nose).
Fortunately, each hatha yoga class starts with a pranayama breathing technique, and the inhale at least is almost always done by the nose
LET’S TAKE A STEP BACK HERE
The picture forming here is, in addition to all physical and mental benefits you get from the postures, you are ALSO getting tremendous health benefits when you do nasal breathing, in pranayama, in savasana, and throughout class. What’s more, practicing nasal breathing in the yoga room, can help train you to do it outside the room.
But just how many benefits you get from each nasal breath?
Here are just three of the benefits you get when you breathe slowly through your nose.
1. Nitric Oxide Production
The nose is responsible for approximately 30 functions in the human body! A lot of us realize our noses help filter and warm the air as we breathe. But did you know there’s also a gas that is released into the nasal cavity called nitric oxide?!
Nitric oxide does quite a few things for our bodies:
- sterilizes incoming air
- opens up airways
- enhances oxygen uptake to bloodstream
The amount of oxygen in the bloodstream impacts our concentration and the quality of our sleep and many other things.
Nathan Bryan, PhD and Dr. Janet Zand, authors of The Nitric Oxide (NO) Solution, refer to nitric oxide as the “miracle molecule” due to all the positive health benefits it provides. They also claim that nitric oxide (NO) production decreases with age which severely impacts our circulatory and respiratory systems.
The original intention for Viagra was to improve blood flow and help increase the amount of nitric oxide in the system. They accidentally discovered that the gas produced other noticeable side effects as well.
Nitric oxide has a wide variety of health benefits and nasal breathing helps produce more of it. Not only are there extensive physical benefits from nasal breathing, there are also tremendous mental and emotional benefits as well.
2. Stress and Anxiety Reduction
Nasal breathing influences the parasympathetic nervous system which controls rest and digestion. Mouth breathing, on the other hand, impacts the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the fight or flight response.
How do you breathe when your stressed? Is it through your nose or through your mouth? Does your breath speed up or slow down? Does it get louder or quieter?
Several scientific experiments have shown that when a person is under stress, fast shallow breathing can actually deprive the body of oxygen. Rapid, shallow mouth breathing can produce an excess of carbon dioxide in the system which if it persists, could result in hyperventilation.
Throughout the day, and especially whenever you’re feeling anxious or stressed, practice taking long, slow, deep inhales and exhales through your nose.
Practice diaphragmatic breathing. Put your hand over your abdomen and feel it rise and expand on every inhale and fall or contract on every exhale. Watch your breath all the way in and all the way out. There is no quicker or easier way calm your mind and lower your stress level throughout the day than slow, deep nasal breathing.
Bottom line is when you’re feeling anxious or stressed, breath slowly in and out through your nose instead of through your mouth. The key thing is to breath slower and longer rather than to speed up.
3. Improve Your Sleep
Next to breathing, sleep is one of the most critical factors for optimal health and well being. Sleep and breathing influence one another.
Studies have shown that there is a correlation between not sleeping well and not breathing well. Many people who suffered from sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, took shallow breaths through the mouth instead of breathing through the nose. Similar to what McKeown discovered, studies have demonstrated that when people can consistently nasal breathe throughout the night, the intensity and severity of their sleep disorders were mitigated.
Focus on slowing down your breathing and breathing through your nose. Bring your conscious awareness to how you are breathing. Train yourself to breathe fewer times per minute. Breathe slower and deeper in and out through your nose throughout the day.
Putting your focus and attention on your nasal breathing will provide several physical and mental health benefits. This one simple health practice just might change your life.
By Jim Holzknecht