When you listen to someone breathing, you can know about their mental and emotional condition in that moment. Fast and quick breathing is indicative of an unsettled mind. A mind that is still thinking about the workday or the commute to the yoga studio or what they are going to eat for dinner or what they are going to do over the weekend. An even and steady breath is indicative of a balanced and calm mind. A mind that is at peace with the current moment, and probably is well rested, nourished and present.
Take a Breath
It is very simple key. Keep your mouth shut! Focus on breathing through your nose. Make nose breathing a habit and you are bound to see a profound change in the quality of your life. This article will provide a more thorough description of nasal breathing, an overview of my own experience using the technique, and some simple guidance for applying the technique in your own daily life.
The human body was built for nose breathing. The mouth has evolved for eating and drinking. The nose has evolved to breathe. The nose is filled with cilia, or small hairs that filter out particulate matter. They keep your body clean and safe from harmful objects and organisms. If you live in any city or urban environment (like I do) you should be thankful for these!
The nose contains a series of ridges or turbinates, that are shaped like elongated sea-shells. Think of these turbinates like your own air conditioning system. They allow inhaled air to adopt a smooth flow and pass through the maximal surface area of cilia and mucous membranes. Air that passes over these built-in Brita Filters is heated up to body temperature, filtered and humidified (up to 98% saturation). The result is that the inhaled air is less shocking to the body and easier to process. In cold weather, the warm air helps to keep the core of your body warm.
Therefore, it would seem that we are built to nose breath all the time. However, when was the last time you went out for a run, and only breathed through your nose? Most of us resort to mouth-breathing at the slightest hint of effort. There is no way we could possibly perform at a high level with such a little amount of air sniffed in through a tiny nose….right? The rest of the animal kingdom, if they speak up, would disagree!
The Race Horse Within
Horses. They are unusual for their ability to not only run long distances while carrying large loads, but their apparent enthusiasm with running hard day after day after day. Interestingly enough, a horse can run at amazing speeds, while only breathing through their nose. They were designed to breath in this manner and have no issue providing enough oxygen for their enormous bodies.
Similar to humans, they also sweat through their skin. Therefore, their mouth is of no use at all while riding. You could tape a thoroughbred race horse’s mouth shut during training or a race and it would perform just fine. In fact, some thoroughbred horse trainers use techniques like this to “re-train” horses that have breathing issues, to optimize their speed and performance on track, or simply to improve their temperament.
Dogs are similar, in that they are nose breathers during any level of exercise. Whether you are strolling around town or going for a run together, their nose is hard at work. The one exception is that since they do not sweat through their skin, they must pant to cool themselves down. However, they are still primarily breathing through their nose. Look across various types of mammals, and your will see a similar trend, they are primarily nose breathers.
Are Humans Different?
In addition to the filtering and warming mechanisms in the nose, the turbinates and the lungs work together to help you breath more efficiently no matter what you are doing. Specifically, these turbinates control and smooth air flow and pressure so that your lungs are better able to take in the air to their larger lower portions. This is critically important when you consider how the lungs are constructed.
Your lungs are two large sacks that are tapered toward the top and quite wide at the bottom. They are filled with alveoli, small sacks filled with capillaries (tiny blood vessels) that allow carbon dioxide to leave your body and oxygen to enter. Not only are the bottom portion of the lungs larger, they also have a much higher number and concentration of alveoli than the top portion. When you breath shallow breaths through your mouth, you are not utilizing the lung’s maximal oxygen processing capabilities.
When you breath in through your nose, the air flows over the turbinates, which directs and funnels the air stream more effectively to the lower portions of the lungs.
Try this out for yourself right now. Sit back and take normal breaths through your mouth for 20 seconds. Stay relaxed and breath normally. Now, take relaxed breaths through your nose for 20 seconds. Feel a difference? Nose breathing causes your lower belly to move in and out, whereas mouth-breathing will cause more expansion of the upper ribs. Nose breathing more effectively feeds the capillary-rich lower-portions of the lungs. With practice, I have noticed steady improvement in my ability to nose-breath larger quantities of air and breathe more deeply.
Healthy Blood for a Healthy Body
Another cruial aspect of nose-breathing is that it helps the body to maintain a more appropriate level of carbon dioxide in the blood.
Let’s take an example of a runner. When you mouth-breath while running, you are taking in rapid breaths of large volumes of air. The result is that your body is able to throw off large quantities of carbon dioxide, a waste-product of the body. This is good right? Well, yes…..but only to a certain degree. The problem is, mouth breathing quickly puts people into a state where they create an artificially low concentration of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. With low quantities of carbon dioxide in the blood, oxygen is not released as freely into the cells of the body. The body is tricked into thinking it is hyperventilated, or already has enough oxygen! The body needs to maintain a certain level of carbon dioxide in the blood to maxmize its ability to absorb oxygen from inhaled air.
It is like trying to fill up a small cup of water from a fire hydrant. With the water gushing so fast from the hydrant, there would be no way to get anything into your cup! Despite the higher volume of air inhaled through the mouth, your body is actually getting less oxygen. This is counter-intuitive, but makes sense when you study the underlying biological process.
Breathing through your nose allows a smaller and more highly directed stream of air to flow deep into the lungs. As a result, the carbon dioxide levels of your blood are able to stay at a more moderate and even level, and the oxygen is able to be efficiently absorbed into the bloodstream.
As an added benefit, the nasal sinuses are large producers of nitric oxide, which is a powerful vassodialator. It’s presence signals blood vessels and capillaries to relax, thereby increasing blood flow to your cells.
For most vertebrates, the brain require 2-8% of our body’s oxygen to function. Humans, however, with our overgrown brains, require a consumption of around 20% of our body’s oxygen to function normally. Whether you are running a marathon or just trying to concentrate better at work; proper oxygenation, and therefore breathing, is of the utmost importance and worthy of your attention. If you have any interest to improve your health and well-being, start with your breath.
Make a Commitment
Try nose breathing exclusively for the next 30 days. Benefits for endurance athletes indicate decreases in the heart rates of runners who nose breath during high intensity 5K races. Through a more efficient processing of oxygen in the body, the heart has to pump less frequently.
Dedicate yourself to this practice, and even while running, weight training and climbing flights of stairs or going to and from every day. This change will not be easy. At first, your runs will slow down considerably, about 20%-30% to maintain the nasal breathing. Throughout the runs, you may have points where you want to gasp for air. Don’t. ..instead, I would simply slow down the pace. Walking up stairs may feel like lungs literally crying out for more air. Simply slow the pace down. Within a few days, the body should begin to adjust.
Nose Breather Born
Every day you will see progress. Nose opening up, less mucous and stuffyness. Able to take in larger quantity of air through my nose as well. Your breathing will be more controlled. Even when you eat or talking with others. Sitting in meetings. Even while sleeping. Switching to nose breathing will allow you to maintain a state of relaxed alertness.