That’s right. After reading and implementing what follows, you will be ready to order a new Black Belt for your dressing gown. Today’s golden nuggets of health related wisdom will soon become as plain as the nose on your face.
First things first…
Shut Your Mouth!
No really, shut your mouth. If you’re not laughing, singing, talking, sticking something in it, or getting something out, shut it.
No other mammal breathes through their mouth unless in dire situations. “What about dogs, Glenn?” I hear you cry. Well, they only do this to regulate their temperature.
The fact is, the nose is our primary tool for breathing.
In 2007, I came across a book called ‘Close Your Mouth’ by Patrick McKeown about the Buteyko Method, a breathing practice that has been shown to help asthmatics, allergy sufferers and the chronically congested. I dabbled a little and had some positive results. The basic premise is pretty simple; wherever possible breathe through your nose.
Since then my breathwork practices have become a major part of my life, and the positives have grown exponentially.
Now, you’ll see that we talk a lot about breathing here at Casa Del Wild Life. Whether it’s Box Breathing for meditation and down regulating our nervous system, deep diaphragmatic nasal breaths for recovery during or after exertion, or Wim Hof breathing for tapping into more energy, I’m always banging on about it in some way, shape or form. Why? Breathing is kind of important.
Here are some fascinating facts:
- The average person takes about 17,000 breaths per day and breathes the equivalent of 7.4 litres of air every minute.
- Branko Petrović held his breath for 11:54 in 2014, and Budimir Šobat held his breath for a whopping 24:11, after sucking on 100% O2 for 30 minutes.
- The way we breathe can change the shape of our face.
- The surface area of the lungs is big enough to cover a tennis court.
- We take, on average, about 8,409,600 breaths per year.
- Breathing is the only autonomous system in the body that we can consciously control.
But Mr Miyagi, as always, explains it best: “No breathe, no life!”
When you watch a baby sleeping how do they breathe? Pretty much always through the nose. I remember watching my baby daughter, in slightly fearful amazement, breathing perfectly through her nose even when she was bunged full of a cold. The disgusting little snot monster would miraculously transform into an angelic picture of perfect nasal breathing.
You see this is how we are hard wired to breathe. Most of us are born into this world with a complete set of manufacturers instructions pre-loaded into us. Over time, due to sociological, environmental, postural and dietary reasons we lose our way.
Nasal breathing is our default setting. It’s time we hit ctrl-alt-del.
Why Nasal Breathe?
There are a whole host of benefits to nasal breathing ranging across the spectrum of mental and emotional health to physiological health. But to name a few:
- Nasal breathing helps filter out dust, spores, pollen, viruses and bacteria. In our current mask wearing world this obviously stands out as an advantage.
- It reduces that forward head position, ‘tech neck’, by allowing the mouth to stay closed and tongue to rest on the roof of the mouth. I think this partly a postural cause from the devices we use and our endemic reliance on sitting, but it could also be due to our compromised breathing efficiency. Look at someone with a severe ‘Tech Neck’ posture; They look very much like someone has put them in the resuscitation, open airways position, only standing up.
- It improves sleep.
- It decreases dehydration.
- It helps to calm our nervous system and reduce anxiety.
- It decreases dental cavities and bad breath by keeping the mouth moist.
- It enables the production of nitric oxide, increasing the O2/CO2 exchange, and improving blood flow and reducing blood pressure.
- It slows our breathing down and helps enhance the Bohr Effect, the blood gas exchange.
And this isn’t new thinking. Breathwork is the foundation for many of the worlds spiritual, meditative and health practices, going back thousands of years.
And our understanding of the blood gas exchange isn’t new either. We are often led to believe that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is nothing but a waste product. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While, yes, CO2 is produced as a byproduct of respiration, it is a vital ingredient for us to obtain Oxygen (O2) into our cells. This is illustrated in the Bohr Effect, as described by Danish physiologist Christian Bohr in 1904. When the amount of CO2 is decreased, our blood pH drops and the haemoglobin in our blood is unable to release the O2 from our blood into the cells that need it. When we are mouth breathing we increase our O2 but decrease our CO2. This means that even though our blood is wonderfully oxygenated, it’s still not getting to the parts of the body that need it.
I now try to only breathe through my nose in most daily endeavours, including exercise and sleeping.
Now this isn’t for everyone. People with severe deviations or other nasal issues may not be able to, but most people can, so don’t assume you can’t without a little experimenting.
I hugely recommend Breath by James Nestor as an excellent starting point, as are books such as The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick Mckeown and Breathing for Warriors by Dr. Belisa Vranich and Brian Sabin.
This has been a big deal for me. Walking down the street on a cold day would make me need my inhaler. Last year, I completed many long distance mountain runs without ever using it. I credit breathwork with much of this.
And for anxiety, breathwork is absolutely my go-to practice.
Not to be sniffed at. See what I did there?
Fear not. This is neither a kinky S&M photo nor a hostage demand.
This is me at bedtime, taping my mouth closed to avail of the many benefits of nasal breathing mentioned above whilst I sleep.
Yes it’s pretty odd, but my mum told me that my oddness made me ‘special’.,
This is probably one of the best hacks I’ve tried for aiding sleep.
We’ve covered many of the benefits of nasal breathing already and by adding it to your night-time routine means you get 8 hours of said benefits while unconscious. Result!
The science has shown that it aides sleep quality too.
If you are a mouth breather (a term often used for abuse) then you are more likely to snore and suffer from sleep apnea.
When we are nasal breathing our nervous system is down regulated, heart rate drops, breath rate slows, and we find drifting off to sleep easier. Add to this the fact that we wake less often, fidget less, don’t need those late night toilet trips as much and it’s a win.
You don’t need to go crazy with the tape and end up looking like a gimp, just a postage stamp size bit of surgical tape in the centre of your mouth is all you need. This allows you to breathe if you panic, and talk out of the corner of your mouth like Popeye. If you really need to, you can just open your mouth and the tape gives way.
I use a cheap surgical microporous tape that costs about £2 a roll. One roll will last me a whole year making this a virtually free practice. Other people like to use steristrip wound closures, and there are even some mouth shaped tapes that are specifically designed for the job. Me, being a cheapskate, opted for the cheapest option. You might want to experiment a bit as different brands offer differing adhesion. The best ever night’s sleep will be marred by loss of lip skin, so be careful.
I’ve used it even when I’m congested. The nose is a clever unit, it magically opens up when there are no other options.
I’ve never struggled to get to sleep, but when I tape I’m out cold instantly, the quality of sleep is fantastic, and I wake up easily, which I never did before. Now if I go to sleep without it I definitely feel the difference, I will often wake with a groggy head. This is either from the extra dehydration from mouth breathing, poor oxygen transfer, or because Kelley has smothered me with a pillow in the night to drown out my snoring.
Pillow talk is a bit limited. Kelley always manages to ask me questions immediately after the tape goes on. Our conversations end up as clicks and grunts and rolled eyes. But Kelley is always like that when she’s sleepy.
The tape sometimes ends up stuck in obscure places by the time I wake. I think it’s Kelley having a laugh. And I did wake up one night chewing a piece convinced that I was enjoying popcorn. This may also account for the times that I wake and cannot find the tape at all.
The Basics of Life
Getting started in nasal breathing is easy, you just close our mouth and only use the nose. But what if your nose is blocked? Try this clever little Buteyko Method exercise to unblock it. It works so well for me that I am convinced it’s some kind of witchcraft.
Right, now that is clear, just focus on your breath coming in and out through your nose. Now many of us breathe in dysfunctional ways, focusing on clavicular and thoracic breaths, never really getting the deep belly, diaphragmatic breaths. So place your hand lightly on your belly and when you inhale feel that area expand outwards as you draw the air deep into body. As you exhale you should feel your belly contract back inwards. One former coach of mine would constantly bellow at me to “Breathe into your balls!” If that helps, use it. For top results aim to inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 6 seconds, if you can.
Just by focusing on our breath we are bringing mindfulness into our day. This is always worthwhile.
If you want to give all this a go but feel a bit wary about doing it at night, then try it in the day first. When you are working away on the computer, or enjoying a Netflix binge, tape up and see how you get on.
Don’t be a ‘Mouth-breather’. Give it a go. What have you got to lose other than that dribble stain on your pillow?