Breathe in, Breathe Out
Breathe like your life depends on it
Humans are designed to breathe through the nose. If you aren’t already breathing through your nose, perhaps this article will convince you.
Breathing is fundamental to life, offering a window into the quality of our energy, thoughts, emotions, and state of being. When breathing is full and natural, we feel healthy, alive, and vital. But when breathing is restricted, our life energy is restricted too.
The Lost Art of Breathing
Ancient religions and spiritual traditions across time—from Christians to Hindus and Jews to Taoists—understood the value of the breath, particularly breathing through the nose.
During the 19th century, American painter and author George Caitlin observed that Native Americans had perfectly straight teeth and almost exclusively breathed through the nose. They believed mouth breathing made you weak and prone to disease, while nostril breathing made the body strong and prevented disease. Caitlin also noted mothers repeatedly shutting the mouths of their sleeping infants to instill nasal breathing as a habit.
The famous yoga teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar, advocates breathing in and out through the nostrils. The “nose is for breathing,” he reminds his students. “The mouth is for eating.” Researchers in Japan forced young rats to breathe through their mouths by obstructing their nostrils. Remarkably, fewer brain cells were produced after only two weeks of mouth breathing, and it took the rodents twice as long to navigate a maze than the unobstructed rats.
At this point, you may be skeptical. After all, doesn’t everyone breathe through their mouth? Maybe, but if you look across 5,400 mammals, the dog is the only mammal to thermo-regulate through the mouth. No other mammal is an obligate mouth breather. For humans, mouth breathing generates stress, stimulates hyperventilation, makes us more susceptible to periodontal disease, and even affects the shape of our face.
As for science, the evidence is clear: Breathing through the nose is associated will significantly better health.
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5 Benefits of Breathing Through the Nose
Below are a few of the benefits of nasal breathing.
1. Twenty Percent More Oxygen
If you were to look at an x-ray of the human head, you would notice something unusual—a complex structure at the front of your face. This intricate structure isn’t random.
Breathing through the nose forces air through a labyrinth of passageways that purifies, heats, and pressurizes the air. This process enables the body to extract about twenty percent more oxygen than breathing the same air through the mouth.
2. Better Physical Health
How we breathe affects every bodily system, including digestion, circulation, the heart, and the brain. Ailments, from asthma to allergies, are directly related to how we breathe and often over-breath.
Breathing through the mouth tends to induce short, shallow breathing like how a dog pants, dramatically increasing air intake and forcing the body to work harder than necessary. Hormones like adrenaline are released into the bloodstream, resulting in chronic inflammation. While this may be an effective way for a dog to cool off, it harms humans.
On the other hand, nasal breathing allows fewer breaths while taking in more oxygen with each breath. It is optimally efficient in the same way High Intensity Interval Training yields similar benefits to traditional aerobic exercise with less overall effort.
We can see how the extra pressure and resistance of nasal breathing are essential to good health.
3: Increased Longevity
A fascinating study from about forty years ago found that the number one indicator of longevity wasn’t genetics or diet but lung capacity. The larger the lungs, the more efficient and healthy they operate, and the longer we live. But what if your lungs are ailing, or if you’re older and your lungs begin to shrink, which happens to all of us after age 35?
The answer is proper breathing. Breathing correctly means slowly breathing in and out through the nose with an upright yet relaxed posture. The ideal breath is almost imperceptible—calm, easy, and rhythmic. This type of breath helps us maintain lung capacity as we age. It is also calming for the body and mind while yielding more oxygen more efficiently with each breath.
Exercise also aids lung capacity, even mild like walking or moderate like hiking. Yoga, a form of breathing before vinyasa flows were added, is also effective at building lung capacity.
Breathing out the sides of your ribs (instead of the front) allows the lungs to inflate and deflate maximally, precisely what we want to do throughout the day.
4: Calmer Body and Mind
About eighty percent of the messages between the body and the mind travel from the body to the mind. Slow, easy inhaling and exhaling through the nose signals to the mind that the body (you) is in a safe place, which has a calming effect. Conversely, when you’re hunched over a keyboard, and your breath is short, shallow, and panting-like, the body signals the mind to be ready for fight, flight, or freeze.
When you want to slow down your breathing, slow down your breathing. For some, that may mean breathing in to a count of three and breathing out to a count of three. Others may extend their breath to a count of five, which is excellent.
One modification I like to use is to inhale to a count of four and exhale to a count of about eight. Lengthening the exhale elicits a parasympathetic response, further relaxing the body. You can verify this in your own experience and measure the effect on your heart rate and blood pressure.
Any time you want to relax your body and calm your mind, breathe in and out slowly through your nose.
5: Better Focus and Performance
Holding your breath intentionally is good. But holding your breath unconsciously is unhealthy, which is what about 80 percent of office workers do for eight to twelve hours daily.
When we sit at our desks, we see all these emails, messages, and to-dos, and we become stressed. We unconsciously hold our breath, then we breath too much, and then we hold our breath again, unnecessarily stressing the body and mind.
Intentional breath-holding has the opposite effect—calming the mind and body. It also helps improve athletic performance. It works by increasing our tolerance to carbon dioxide. When we hold our breath, oxygen levels decrease while carbon dioxide level increase.
On the surface, that may sound like a bad idea. After all, we tend to think oxygen is good and carbon dioxide is harmful. But if you were to hold your breath while measuring your oxygen levels, it would take a couple of minutes to see a measurable drop.
Holding your breath allows you to go more deeply into your body, focus more intently, perform better, and even heat yourself when you’re cold.
First-Hand Experience With Nose Breathing
I’ve been breathing through my mouth for my entire life. But for the past year, I’ve been experimenting with breathing through my nose while working, exercising, and sleeping (taping my mouth shut) and journaling the results.
As you would expect, taping my mouth shut felt awkward, and there were moments of panic.
After a few days, the fear disappeared, and within ten days, breathing through my nose was more effortless and felt more natural.
Here’s what I have observed over the past year from nasal breathing:
Nose breathing gets easier. Breathing through my nose is about 33% to 50% easier today than it was a year ago. My nasal passageways are significantly more open, and air flows in and out more smoothly. This would have been impossible if you had asked me a year ago.
More energy. When I breathe through my mouth during the day, my energy level drops off rapidly in the afternoon, as does cognitive performance. By the end of the day, I’m tired and lethargic. But when I breathe through my nose, I feel more alive and alert throughout the day, even at the end of a workday.
More ease. I notice similar benefits to meditation and mindfulness when I breathe through my nose. I feel more grounded and settled in my body, more at ease, more relaxed, more centered, more energetic, less agitated, and less likely to get triggered. But unlike mindfulness, breathing through the nose doesn’t seem to aid concentration (which I find is different from focus).
Clearer mind. With nasal breathing, my mind works better and feels less heavy, groggy, and agitated and more bright and alert like a clear bell. I’ve experienced similar effects with sativa cannabis, but cannabis tends to impair my cognitive performance the following day.
Better health. After a night of sleeping through my nose, my teeth are remarkably clean the following day, and there’s significantly less need to scrape my tongue. I also wake up less dehydrated, similar to being on a meditation retreat. More relaxation and less stress means less water loss.
My fingernails, toenails, and hair grow faster than usual when I breathe through my nose.
I also notice that my spine becomes more supple, and my posture even improves. When I breathe through my nose at work, my spine doesn’t get stuck as much, and it feels less stiff and more limber throughout the day.
Improved athletic performance. I can do more of the same activity before having to stop. For example, I can complete about ten percent more pushups and curls than when I breathe through my mouth. And when I ride a stationary bike, I feel more energetic afterward than I usually do.
Increased sexual appetite. Before, I wanted to have sex only when I was in the mood, when I felt intimate, or when my partner and I hadn’t had sex for a while. Now I feel like having sex during the workday, which rarely happens with mouth breathing. I don’t know about other men, but I love the feeling of wanting sex—I feel like a gladiator.
This is not uncommon. Nose breathing releases nitric oxide, the same gas that sildenafil (Viagra) releases into the bloodstream, which opens the capillaries in the genitals and elsewhere. According to German physician Richard Kayser, the lining of the nose is covered in erectile tissue, “the same flesh that covers the penis, clitoris, and nipples,” writes James Nestor, author of Breath. “The nose is more intimately connected to the genitals than any other organ; when one gets aroused, the other responds.”
See For Yourself
Things don’t need to be complicated to be effective. Simple adjustments to your breathing throughout the day can have a transformative effect. This may sound too simplistic until you discover what millions of people have realized: that the breath is one of the most effective ways to take control of your health.
That’s what I’ve discovered, and I think you’ll find the same is true for you.
Of course, breathing through your mouth won’t kill you. You will get enough oxygen to survive, but surviving differs from living vibrantly. When you breathe through your nose, you will feel better; your skin and eyes will be clearer; you will have more energy for your projects and relationships; and you will succeed more in all areas of your life.
In the beginning, breathing through the nose may feel awkward, but it will become second nature over time. That said, practicing is easy, but remembering is hard.
Thanks for reading, as always. Feel free to share in the comments or say hi by replying to this email. See you soon.
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