Have you ever been told to shut your mouth? While it may have seemed brash at the time, it’s actually great advice, especially if you’re feeling stressed, frequently congested, winded during exercise, not sleeping well or have high blood pressure.
Try it! Breathe in and out through your nose, focusing on initiating the breath from your belly. Placing one hand on your chest, the other on your belly can help you begin to shift from chest to belly breathing. As you breathe, imagine filling a glass of water from the bottom to the top.
Benefits of Nasal Breathing
When we breathe through the nose, a few important things happen:
- We naturally stimulate the parasympathetic side of our nervous system. This is responsible for initiating rest and recovery in the body. Breathing through the mouth activates more receptors for the sympathetic nervous system, or the fight or flight, stress response side. That means you could be chilling on the beach, but if you’re sucking air in and out the mouth instead of the nose, your body still thinks it’s in danger and is prepared to flee. Deep restful sleep, weight loss, athletic recovery and general healing isn’t a priority here. Your body is stuck in survival mode, even if there’s no danger in sight.
- Our body can use the nitric oxide it naturally produces. Nitric oxide is a gas that’s produced in the nasal cavity. Its benefits include vasodilation throughout the body (the perfect natural decongestant for chronically stuffy noses). It’s also one of the ways in which the body regulates blood pressure.
- We’re able to use oxygen more effectively. Carbon dioxide is responsible for helping to release oxygen from hemoglobin in the blood. It’s a myth that we need to take giant breaths in order to get enough oxygen. Chances are, the body already has enough in the blood. The trouble is accessing it. That’s carbon dioxide’s job. Chronically sighing or breathing through the mouth causes us to over breath, thus exhaling too much carbon dioxide from the body and making it difficult to have enough to release the available oxygen. The body attempts to balance the system by initiating another breathe, therefore keeping us stuck in an endless loop of overbreathing.
Steps to Become a Better Breather
- Practice breathing through the nose and closing the mouth. Pay attention to the situations where you tend to breathe through the mouth. These are often stressful times. Take note and make a reminder to focus on the breath before you encounter the situation.
- Practice shifting your breath from the chest to the belly, so that the belly rises first (as described above).
- Once you shift to belly breathing, focus on keeping the breath quiet. You can practice this at night. See if you can slow down the breath. Then try to soften the volume on it.
- Sighing is another sign of overbreathing. When you feel the urge to sigh, try to redirect it into a steady breath or pause your breathing for a few breaths until you can bring the body back to a steady rhythm.
- Integrate nasal breathing into your workout. See if you can synchronize your breath to your walking pace and then to a slow jog. Feel how the breath and the movement work together.