Amongst all of the stresses and strains of modern-day life, breathing is one of the few things that just keeps ticking away without our attention. So why play with it? I’ll tell you why… Because it’s one of the single biggest factors that will have a positive impact on your health, right now, with no equipment needed. And best of all, it’s absolutely free!!
We are designed to breathe through our noses. We were born breathing through our noses. Even when a new-born baby cries, it will breathe in through its nose in-between its wails for attention. To breathe through our mouths is a compensation we tend to learn around the age of 4/5 months old, yet many of us end up defaulting to this unnatural state and with it come the many negative side-effects of being ‘A Mouth Breather’.
Look at it this way. Throughout the course of a day, we will breathe between 17,000 – 30,000 times. Anything you are doing this often (if done incorrectly) is likely to have some sort of impact, right? Remember that time you went out for a long walk or run and got a blister, which made you change the way you moved for the rest of the distance. You probably had pain in some unusual places the next day, right…? This is because your body compensated to achieve a goal, and this is exactly what mouth-breathing is – a compensation act, not our bodies’ preferential state.
The nose is directly connected to the diaphragm, which is the muscle that sits at the bottom of our rib-cage primarily responsible for inhalation (for a deeper understanding on the anatomy of breathing please see ‘The Importance of Breathing’ by Coach Sale).
The ultimate goal of breathing is not to get oxygen into our lungs. This may seem counter-intuitive, but bear with me! The goal of breathing is to get oxygen into our bloodstream and then from our bloodstream into our cells, where our bodies will benefit from it. When we breathe through our nose and therefore our diaphragm, we will automatically suck air into the bottom of our lungs which, thanks to gravity, is where the majority of the blood and blood vessels are situated.
Conversely, when we breathe through our mouths, this is connected to the top of our chest, where there are far fewer blood vessels. Mouth or upper-chest breathing is also strongly related to stress, tight shoulder & neck muscles, and the sympathetic (fight or flight) state of our nervous system – put simply, it causes the body to reside in a state of stress and unrest.
Other Benefits of Nasal Breathing
There are numerous other benefits to nasal breathing but in an attempt to keep you reading until the end, I will simply list them for now:
- Hairs that filter the air.
- Increased nitrous oxide (NO2) presence in the nose required for sterilising the air plus anti-inflammatory benefits to the body.
- The diaphragm is connected to our internal organs also; the more it moves, the more they move (think of them like muscles, you don’t want them getting stiff).
- Improved mental focus.
- Improved emotional control.
- Improved sleep.
- Increased Parasympathetic Nervous System Activation (PNS) with its many benefits, including:
- Reduced heart rate.
- Slower breathing rate.
- More relaxed muscles.
- Improved digestion.
And these are just the benefits of nasal breathing, without even going into the detrimental affects of mouth breathing.
So, Why ‘Play with Breathing’?
Now we are aware that breathing through our nose is preferable, tell me – when was the last time you made a conscious decision to do it? Try this. Every time it crosses your mind and you catch yourself mouth breathing over the next 24 hrs, switch to nasal and see how often you unconsciously breathe through your mouth and unnecessarily place yourself in that state of stress & unrest.
There are a number of techniques and methods you can try to stimulate your mind and body, but I will list just a few below.
Give them a go and see how incorporating breathing play into your daily routine can benefit you:
Clean Out Your Lungs
When was the last time you took a deep breath? I mean, a REALLY deep breath? You see, our lungs will store a residual volume of air; this air, if not expelled can become stagnant and will contain many of the air pollutants prevalent in today’s environments. Think of it as a fish tank. If you went to clean it out, and you only scooped out the top 2 inches of old water and then topped it up with fresh water… How long would it be before you see Goldie floating at the top of the tank? It is the same principle with our lungs. We need to completely refresh them every now and then. And you may well be amazed by the way you feel, mentally & physically, after just a few short minutes if you do!
The Exercise: Breath in deeply through your nose until you cannot take in any more air, wait a couple of seconds for your muscles to get used to this newly expanded state and then breathe in a little more. Hold it for a couple more seconds and see if you can breathe in even the slightest bit more. This is your lungs filled! Hold for 5-7 seconds and then slowly exhale through your nose until there is absolutely nothing left, your abdomen is flat & you can breathe out no more. Then inhale again. Repeat this process 9x and your lungs will be cleared, your mind focused and your body far more relaxed – kind of like a mini-meditation.
As I mentioned earlier, it is not only about the oxygen you can get into your blood but the oxygen you can get from your bloodstream into your cells. It is the build-up of carbon dioxide (CO2) that not only give us the desire to breathe but also instigates diffusion of fresh O2 into our cells and the toxic CO2 out of them.
Test: This is known as the ‘Bolt Test’ – Breathe in deeply and hold, if it takes less than 25 seconds for you to get a real desire to breathe, not desperation (an oxygen hunger) then you could see some massive improvements simply by increasing your CO2 tolerance.
The Exercise: Breathe through your nose just that little bit slower (not shallower) than your body desires. Learn to tolerate a little bit of an oxygen hunger and your cells and exercise capacity will thank you for it.
Trouble Sleeping? This can be affected by numerous different factors, however, rather than counting sheep next time you find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night, try this:
The Exercise: Simply breathe in fully through your nose, hold, then breathe out fully, and then straight back in again, all for equal time intervals i.e. In for 7secs, hold for 7secs, out for 7secs & repeat 5x. This will focus your mind and stop it from wandering, as well as stimulate your ‘rest & digest’ PNS system to kick in.
To summarise this article into four short words, play with your breathing. Take some really deep breaths, take some slow breaths, allow your body to crave oxygen a little from time to time and always breathe through your nose.
Hopefully, you found something beneficial in this article. Should you have any questions, you know where we are!
Author - Alex Dorrington - Personal Trainer & Mentor
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