The simple act of breathing through your mouth could compromise your health and performance. In a world where sedentary lifestyles, allergies and stress prevail, mouth breathing has become increasingly common, often without us even noticing. However, science is shedding light on the detrimental effects of this seemingly innocuous habit.

James Nestor, acclaimed science journalist and author of Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, unveils a groundbreaking revelation: by shifting from mouth breathing to nostril breathing, we have the potential to unlock a plethora of health benefits and enhance our overall well-being. Nestor’s research delves deep into the intricate mechanisms of our respiratory system, revealing how our nose serves not only as a pathway for air but as a vital instrument for optimizing bodily functions.

“When breathing through our noses, it clears the air, heats it and moistens it for easier absorption. Most people know this. But what so many people never consider is the nose’s unexpected role in problems like erectile dysfunction. Or how it can trigger a cavalcade of hormones and chemicals that ease digestion or lower blood pressure. How it responds to the stages of a woman’s menstrual cycle. How it regulates our heart rate, opens the vessels in our toes and regulates our heart rate,” says Nestor.

What’s So Bad About Mouth-Breathing?

According to Dr Mark Burhenne, a family and sleep medicine dentist, the nose is designed for smelling and breathing and the mouth is for talking, tasting and eating. Problems arise when our body parts operate outside their intended function. Dr Mark says that the airway can collapse when breathing through the mouth because air is forced through the airway at a much larger volume compared to when breathing through the nose. He further believes that mouth-breathing is one of the most likely causes of gum disease and cavities.

Many other health issues are also associated with children who mouth breathe, including abnormal facial development and growth, poor sleep and hyperactivity disorder. In fact, symptoms of mouth breathing in teens and children seem to be identical to ADHD symptoms. One study even suggests that more than 50 percent of children treated and diagnosed with ADHD might be sleeping and living with their mouths open. Mouth breathing can further also impact academic performance in children, impact blood pressure and worsen asthma.

Dr Priyal Modi, Integrative Medical Doctor and Breathwork Practitioner told the Epoch Times that “mouth breathing leads to shorter, shallower and upper chest breathing which induces the stress response in the mind-body complex.” Other effects of mouth breathing mentioned by Dr Modi are bad breath, tooth decay, gum disease, throat irritation, infections, dry mouth, hoarseness, and respiratory fatigue. Mouth breathing is also associated with deprived sleep with associated loss of concentration, memory, mood metabolism, snoring, fatigue, brain fog, raised blood pressure, chronic stress and anxiety,” she says.  She adds that mouth-breathing has become more prominent due to stressful lifestyles, poor diet (highly processed and sugar-laden foods), obesity, nasal congestion (allergies, hay fever infections) or structural abnormalities (deviated septum, nasal polyps, enlarged turbinates or tonsils).

The Benefits of Nose Breathing

Dr Modi explains that “when breathing through the nose, the air passes through a number of structures prior to entering the delicate tissues of the lungs. These include nasal hair, cilia, nasal cavities and turbinates. These structures allow the air to be filtered, disinfected, humidified (warmed and moistened) and purified. This pathway removes dust, allergens and pollutants, as well as introducing the gas nitric oxide (NO) to the air.”

James Nestor mentions in his book that nasal breathing can boost nitric oxide production sixfold, which means that we can absorb 18 percent more oxygen by breathing through our nose compared to mouth breathing.

Nitric oxide further plays a key role in a series of neurobiological functions, such as memory and behaviour and it helps to regulate blood pressure and inflammation. It is also useful in the management of obesity, with potential weight-loss benefits, it relieves pain and even seems to have antidepressant-like effects. The erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra, also works by releasing nitric oxide into the bloodstream. This opens up the capillaries in the genitals and other areas of the body.

According to Dr Modi, the nasal airways have antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties. Nasal breathing also slows down the breath which means that there is better recruitment of the diaphragm. This is more calming and allows more efficient uptake of oxygen.

Try Mouth Taping

One strategy that can be used is mouth taping to make sure you’re getting adequate air through the nostrils while sleeping. James Nestor conducted an experiment, where he found that his snoring went down from four hours to ten minutes and his sleep apnoea events were reduced from two dozen to zero with mouth taping. This study shows us that not only are many patients with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) mouth-breathers and that mouth-breathing worsens the severity of OSA, but that mouth-taping during sleep improves the severity of sleep apnoea as well as snoring. The suggestion made by these researchers is that mouth-taping could be used as an alternative treatment before turning to surgical intervention or nasal continuous positive airway pressure treatment.

Breathwork Techniques to Try

Breathwork’s appeal lies in the tangible effects and accessibility of the practice. “Our breath is right under our nose and it empowers us with a tool to navigate life better. Breathwork is a field that has gained the interest of the scientific community and is researched at some of the world’s top institutions. It is a key tool in mindfulness and stress management practices and likely to become one the next pillars of health,” says Dr Modi.

Ross Austen, Functional Breath Coach told the Epoch Times that “the breath is an underutilized tool when it comes to performance and well-being. Once you start to understand the science and the nervous system you can start to piece things together and have a bigger appreciation of the impact of breathwork.” The good news is, according to Austen that the breath is trainable and once we grasp the fundamentals it can assist with improving our wellbeing and performance. He recommends the following breathwork techniques for calm and relaxation:

* Extended exhale breathing: Inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 8 second (repeat)
* Cadence breathing: Inhale for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, exhale for 6 seconds, hold for 3 seconds (repeat)

* 478 breathing: Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds (repeat) 

* Physiological Sigh: Deep inhale, second inhale, sigh out 

Another breathing technique that could be considered is alternate nostril breathing. This study shows that it influences the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system significantly if done for 15 minutes daily, for 6 weeks. 

In his book, The Breath of Life: Mal-respiration, and its effects upon the enjoyments & life of man, George Catlin says in the final paragraph: “and if I were to endeavour to bequeath to posterity the most important Motto which human language can convey, it should be in three words – SHUT-YOUR-MOUTH…where I would paint and engrave it, in every Nursery, and on every Bed-post in the Universe, its meaning could not be mistaken. And if obeyed, its importance would soon be realized.”

A version of this article has been published by the Epoch Times newspaper.

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