As the world starts to move out of the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can all take a deep breath. Feel that inhalation and exhalation move through your body.
Never before have people been so thankful to breathe freely. But have you ever thought about your breathing techniques? For the most part, it comes naturally to us, so we don’t give it a second thought. However, you may want to pay more attention to the way you breathe and recognize if you are a mouth breather or nose breather.
In fact, I’m writing this with a stuffy nose! That being said, you may not realize how much more important and comfortable nasal breathing is until you’re forced to breathe through your mouth. So, don’t take your clear sinuses for granted, and practice your nasal breathing techniques today!
The overwhelming evidence shows that nose breathing is a superior technique. Read more to learn about the benefits of nose breathing and how you can improve your breathing methods.
What is Nose Breathing?
Nose breathing otherwise referred to as nasal breathing is a natural breathing technique.
The truth is our bodies are designed to breathe nasally. When we breathe through the nose, we are essentially filtering the oxygen before it enters the lungs. Those nose hairs you might be trimming actually act to filter out dust, allergens, and other foreign particles from reaching your lungs.
Bestselling author & fitness guru Ben Greenfield notes in his 2020 book, Boundless, that our nose hairs (otherwise known as cilia) are estimated to protect our bodies from about 20 billion particles of foreign matter each day. In addition to this effective filtration system, nasal breathing also humidifies the air you breathe in, allowing it to adjust to your body temperature (this helps the lungs be more productive).
Essentially, when you breathe through your nose, it provides a warm, moisturizing effect on the air. This is positive for your health because your lungs will benefit from filtered & moisturized air, rather than unfiltered, dry air.
You breathe in through your nose, and it becomes filtered and humidified, but when you release the nasal breath, it releases nitric oxide. The release of nitric oxide is beneficial for the circulation of oxygen in your body and helps expand blood vessels.
What is Mouth Breathing?
Mouth breathing is pretty self-explanatory when you look at the name. It essentially refers to the practice of inhaling or regularly breathing orally, rather than nasally. It’s common in people with short-term conditions like allergies or colds, but it also is more common when sleeping.
People who regularly breathe through their mouth may experience symptoms such as dry mouth, bad breath, sore throats, fatigue, or even dark eye circles. It’s often caused by blockages in your nasal passageways that make it hard to breathe through your nose.
Benefits of Nose Breathing
There is plenty of science behind the benefits of nose breathing and it may surprise you to know how beneficial it can be for your health.
1. Calmer Mind and Body
Nasal breathing requires you to slow down and deepen your breath, which can be extremely powerful. Slow, calm breaths activate your parasympathetic nervous system, or your “rest and digest” mode.
Compare that to the sympathetic nervous system, activated during “fight or flight” mode. Too much time in “fight or flight” can increase your risk of many health conditions, from high blood pressure to heart disease. Mindfully breathe through your nose to calm down and keep your body healthy.
2. Improved Oxygen Quality
When you breathe through your nose, the oxygen is essentially filtered by the hair in your nose. This can help filter bacteria and allergens, which means that the oxygen entering your lungs is bound to be cleaner. Plus, you’ll be increasing your oxygen intake the more you practice.
Also, when you breathe through your nose it will lead to more production of nitric oxide, which will help open your airways and enhance the oxygen in your bloodstream.
3. Better Athletic Performance
Nasal breathing can also improve your athletic performance by leading to a rise in CO2 levels before you exhale. This results in a better tolerance of CO2 when you exercise, which allows you to perform longer with less breath.
That said, many athletes use this breathing technique to improve their endurance.
4. Better Sleep Quality
There are multiple benefits of nasal breathing, but more scientists have shown interest in the positive effect on sleep quality. When you use nasal breathing while sleeping, it can help you avoid sore throats, dry mouth, and help you wake up feeling more refreshed.
However, research shows that nasal breathing can have promising effects to improve symptoms in patients with sleep apnea.
Negative Effects of Mouth Breathing
When you think of breathing through your mouth, you may see nothing wrong with it initially. You are breathing after all– what’s the problem? Well, there are many effects that come with regular mouth breathing that you might want to avoid.
1. Dry Mouth
This reduces the saliva you produce in your mouth, which can result in bad breath, increased amounts of bacteria, and even infections in your teeth, throat, and ears.
2. Lower Quality Oxygen
Nose breathing allows your body to filter the air coming into your lungs, but mouth breathing does not give you this ability. That said, mouth breathing can cause you to breathe in more bacteria, allergens, and more.
Although you may experience increased oxygen levels from mouth breathing, the quality of that oxygen is reduced significantly. Studies show that when your air is not being properly filtered due to mouth breathing, it can also decrease your lung function and worsen symptoms in patients with lung problems or asthma.
3. Potential Health Risks
Another possible effect of mouth breathing is the development of long face syndrome. This can lead to dental abnormalities, poor head posture, and narrow face development.
Many people who are prone to mouth breathing may experience more sleep problems which can negatively affect function during the day. Poor sleep can lead to lower energy, decreased productivity, and increased levels of stress. One recent study noted that there is a link between oral breathing and nasal obstruction in patients who suffer from sleep apnea.
Tips & Exercises to Improve Your Nose Breathing
The most important way to improve your nose breathing is to practice! It is especially helpful to practice nasal breathing during exercise, as it will help train your body to improve the breathing technique.
Another tip is to reduce the allergens in your living space, to help clear out anything that may cause nasal blockages or closed airways. Nasal breathing can also be improved with the use of nasal sprays to help clear congestion due to allergies or illness.
Here are some exercises you can practice to help you improve your nose breathing!
1. Alternate Nostril Breathing
This technique is commonly used when practicing mindfulness meditation, as well as yoga. The method is pretty simple, but it requires focus and concentration to get the full benefits. To practice alternate nostril breathing, start by positioning yourself in a seated position with your back straight. Maintain this tall posture throughout the breathing exercise.
Once you’re seated, relax your shoulders, relax your neck, and relax your tongue. Place your left hand on your left knee, and press your right thumb onto your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril, hold your breath, and then move your right finger to your left nostril.
Exhale your breath through the right nostril, then inhale through your right nostril to repeat the exercise.
This may not be the best exercise to try when your sinuses are clogged up, but if you practice regularly, it can help prevent sinus congestion.
2. Diaphragmatic Breathing
This breathing technique is also known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing. This technique can provide benefits like slowing your heart rate, reducing stress levels, and helping to clear your mind. The method is simple and helps you use your diaphragm muscles, so here’s how it works.
Start by positioning yourself in a seated, upright position (or you can lay down) with relaxed shoulders. Ensure your mouth is closed to avoid any mouth breathing and place one hand on your stomach, then place your other hand on your chest. Inhale slowly through your nose, focusing the breath towards your stomach.
You can be sure you’re doing it correctly if you feel the sensation of your belly rising as it fills with air and your chest remains in place. If you feel your stomach rising as you inhale, then that means you are exercising those diaphragm muscles. Exhale, then repeat as needed.
This method can help you practice nasal breathing as well as increase your oxygen intake.
3. Breath of Fire
This technique may take some practice, but it’s a helpful method to improve concentration and respiratory function. Begin this exercise by sitting up straight with relaxed shoulders.
Take both of your hands and place them on your stomach with your palms facing upward. Close your mouth and take a deep breath through your nose, allowing your stomach to expand as it fills with air, working your diaphragm muscles. Then quickly exhale through your nose with force, allowing your stomach to move back in.
Continue this cycle without stopping, and try to find a nice rhythm with your breathing. Once you’ve achieved a rhythm, increase your intensity. It is recommended that once you speed up your rhythm, repeat for 30 seconds.
These exercises can be practiced to reduce stress, improve sleep, enhance athletic performance, and so much more! Nasal breathing can provide multiple benefits that will improve your health, so it’s important to pay attention to your breathing techniques and practice nose breathing techniques.