Breathing has been a “buzz word” for a while in the fitness and yoga industry. The question is always why? Most people say to themselves I can breathe because I’m living! Well the truth is that most of us struggle to breath optimally for our bodies. Let’s discuss the differences between nasal breathing and mouth breathing.
When inhaling through our nose, the air is filtered, cleaned, and warmed. Warming the air prior to entering the lungs moistens it which allows for easier absorption. During inhalation a negative pressure is created in the upper thorax by the descension of the diaphragm and expansion of the rib cage. This shape change is essential for optimal breathing. Inhaling through the nose adds at least 50% more resistance to air flow. It helps maintain normal elasticity of the lungs, thus assuring optimal conditions for providing oxygen and good heart function. It also increases carbon dioxide levels and tolerance to it. Nitric Oxide is a vasodilator gas produced in the nasopharynx. It is boosted six times in the amount when breathing through nasal passages. It helps us absorb 18% more oxygen compared to mouth breathing. Nitric Oxide is also helpful for immune health and general body homeostasis. Nasal Breathing during exercise lowers heart rate and breath rate. When performed during exercise, the person will perceive as less exertion during exercise. Nasal breathing allows for a shorter recovery times and increases endurances. Also interesting that it reduces the galvanic skin stress response.
Did you know that nasal cycles exist where throughout the day there is a dominance of one nostril over the other. This can change every 30 minutes to four hours. There can be structural influences that may influence the ability for nasal lateralization such as a deviated septum, nasal valve prolapse, or history of facial trauma. Nasal cycles can influence the rhythm and balance of our central and autonomic nervous system. Right nasal breathing is tied into the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for our fight or flight responses. Inherently, right nasal breathing speeds up circulation, increases body temperature, cortisol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate. It also feeds more blood into the left hemisphere to the prefrontal cortex which is associated with logical decisions, language, and computing. Left nasal breathing is associated with the parasympathetic nervous system otherwise known as the rest and digest. It lowers body temperature, blood pressure, and reduces anxiety. Left nasal breathing shifts blood circulation to the right prefrontal cortex responsible for creative though, emotions, and formation of mental abstractions. So when in need for some relaxation, Left nostril breathing may be the ticket! As human beings we breathe 22-24 thousand times per day. During this time our bones are moving to make this happen! Our rib cage expands and contracts and our pelvis inlet and outlet shifting position as we breathing. Finally, nasal breathing actually moves our cranial bones! Yes! This may seem strange or unbelievable. Our breathing system is a pump that allows for fluid shifting throughout our bodies. Our guts move up and down as we breathe. This is able to be seen on MRI. While cranial expansion and compression happens, it helps move through the cerebral spinal fluid and arterial flow through the cranium. An extreme example of this fluid shift is when we are upside down for a long period of time and there is a rush of blood to our head. There are many other structures that assist with this fluid flow through our system as well including the thoracic diaphragm and the pelvic floor to name a few. Development of our breathing system starts at a very young age. It is one of the first things we do as we exit the womb. We practice and develop our breathing system as we grow in utero as well as nursing as a young child. Nasal breathing can improve oral tongue posture and facial development. There is a vacuum affect when the tongue sits on the roof of the mouth to increase suction. It increases oxygen transport by 10-20% by increases back pressure during exhalation which forces more oxygen into the bronchi and bronchioles allowing more to be pushed into alveoli increasing oxygen diffusion into the blood stream. Optimizing tongue position with nasal breathing can assist with this cranio-facial development in young children and improve dental bite alignment and decrease airway constriction. Issues with these things can can lead to problems later on in life such as temporomandibular joint dysfunction and sleep apnea. Myofunctional therapy is one type of therapy that can assist with development of these skills. If all of these reasons don’t convince you to pay a little more attention to nasal breathing, I’m not sure what will. Are you looking for more resources on this topic? Three books that have really helped me understand more about breathing include: Breath by James Nestor; The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown; and Jaws by Sandra Kahn and Paul Ehrlich. Additionally, some of my education from the Postural Restoration Institute and Integrative Rehab Training has been key to my understanding of its importance!