Nasal Breathing for Optimized Health

Nasal breathing might be the most important skill you develop in the next three months. If you disagree, I’d encourage you to read on with an open mind to the amazing capabilities of our respiratory system.

Breathing is a fundamental part of living. We all think that we know how to breathe. But, do we? The answer to this question may be a resounding no. Many of us breathe through our mouths instead of our noses, which may cause a wide variety of physical and mental health challenges.

However, even if you are a mouth breather, you should not simply throw in the towel. There are ways to learn how to breathe more effectively through your nose.

Below, we will explore in greater detail what nasal breathing is, how to do it effectively, and the myriad benefits that you could achieve by working to transition to nasal breathing. 

What is Nasal Breathing?

We all breathe thousands of times per day. The average person is estimated to take around 700 million breaths over their entire life.

Yet, many of us do not think about how we breathe or the quality of our breaths unless we are reminded to slow down and take deep breaths in a stressful situation. Even then, most of us tend to breathe through our mouths. It is simply easier, and many of us have fallen into this unhealthy habit. 

Nasal breathing is an alternative approach to breathing. Advocates of nasal breathing argue that breathing through our noses is actually how our bodies were designed to breathe.

The History of Nasal Breathing

They point to most indigenous populations, who still engage in nasal breathing because of the many natural benefits. Interestingly, the tiny nose hairs act like filters, catching foreign particles and cleaning out environmental contaminants before they reach our lungs.

Most scientists will agree the primary function of our nose is to support respiratory function, so it makes perfect sense to breathe through your nose for most of the 700 million breaths you will take in an average lifespan.

The nose optimizes the oxygen content and the air that reaches our lungs. Our mouths lack these filtration devices. Instead, allowing polluted and dirty air to flow straight from our mouths to our upper chest and lungs.

Nose Breathing Versus Mouth Breathing 

Many people tend to breathe through their mouths instead of their noses. This can happen for various reasons, including if someone is battling nasal congestion from a cold or seasonal allergies.

Shallow breaths quickly through the mouth is what many people think is the most effective way to breathe. Studies are showing this couldn’t be more incorrect.

If a person´s nasal passages are open, breathing through the nose boosts oxygen content to the lung.

Also, as an added perk, nasal breathing heats the air entering your body using your body temperature and makes it less dry. Humid air helps lung function and oxygen delivery.

Why Do I Feel Air Hunger?

Another common reason many people breathe through the mouth is the feeling of air hunger. They don’t understand how nose breathing would allow them to “get enough” oxygen.

What they might not realize is there’s a gas that gives you this “air hunger.” It’s carbon dioxide. By building up a tolerance to carbon dioxide levels over several weeks with breathing practices, your air hunger will decrease, allowing your body to slowly, and efficiently breathe through your nose.

These are not the only health benefits associated with nasal breathing. However, before we explore some of these added pluses for our bodies, let´s talk about how to do nasal breathing effectively. For some people, it can be straightforward and intuitive.

But, for other people, it may require some practice and mastering specific techniques, beginning with simple ones and gradually moving towards more challenging approaches.  

Techniques for Nasal Breathing 

Some people assume that all breathing is created equally and that there is no right or wrong way to breathe. But, this is not entirely true. There are proper breathing techniques associated with nasal breaths to make sure that you maximize the benefits. 

Some individuals recommend an extreme start to nasal breathing. One of these more extreme methods is a technique referred to as mouth taping.

This is when people place tape gently over their mouth at night, leaving them with no option other than to breathe through their noses.

Seek Out Nasal Breathing Experts

But, some people find this approach highly claustrophobic and intimidating. Patrick McKeown has much to say on the topic of mouth tape. I’d fully recommend you check him out for deep explanations on nasal ventilation using mouth tape.

I’d also recommend the excellent book by James Nestor called Breath. It lays out so many concepts in an understandable way.

Fortunately, there are gentler ways to introduce mouth breathing. Two of these great, more delicate techniques can help start nasal breathing the right way, boosting your overall health in a variety of ways. These techniques are known as diaphragmatic breathing and alternate nostril breathing. 

Diaphragmatic Nasal Breathing 

The diaphragm is a crucial part of your anatomy. Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is a technique that brings air deep into your stomach, past your lower lungs.

It can be an instrumental approach to breathing – not only in stressful situations – but at all times. Unfortunately, most people tend to only breathe through their rib cage.

This means that healthy, oxygen-rich air does not make it into their abdomen and instead stops at their lungs and is quickly exhaled out.  

The best way to learn this new approach to abdominal breathing is by laying down and breathing while on your back. Imagine that you are stressed about a work problem or a family situation. While lying on your back, gently close your mouth and begin taking deep breaths in and out through your nose.

Nasal Breathing and Belly Breathing

As you breathe, fold your hands across your abdomen. Focus on sending the oxygen from your nose breaths deep down to your stomach and as you inhale in, feel your abdomen rise beneath your hands, and then gently sink back down as you exhale.

If your hands rise, you know that you are breathing correctly. These are your breathing muscles in action.

Done correctly, diaphragmatic breathing will help you control your stress, reduce your heart rate, and slow your breathing.

Once you have practiced it numerous times at home in a controlled situation, you can start trying the technique in real-world situations.

It may take some time to transition your success from a prone position to a standing position, but this skill will get easier with practice.

Alternate Nostril Breathing 

Although at first glance, alternate nostril breathing may appear to be a complex technique to master. But with practice and a tiny bit of coordination, anyone can quickly learn this technique.

Unlike diaphragmatic breathing, which is best learned lying down, this technique should be practiced in a comfortable seated position. Ideally, your back should be against something firm and stable to help support your lungs and your rib cage. 

First, focus on your left nostril by placing a finger against your right nostril and closing it off. Slowly inhale air through the left nostril sending oxygen-rich air into your nasal cavity.

Once you have correctly inhaled, hold your breath and put your finger against your left nostril.

With a relaxed upper body, slowly exhale all air through your right nostril. Finally, slowly inhale air back through your right nostril, using calm, controlled nasal breathing.

Take your time. These breaths should not be rushed or hurried at all.  

Do Nose Excercises Work?

Many people hear about the amazing benefits of nasal breathing but still wonder if nose exercises work. Not too long ago, I remember thinking the same thing. I can say for me; they worked like magic. But everyone is different and unique.

I would encourage you to explore nose exercises on your own and develop a practice to test specific techniques. If you’ve formed terrible breathing habits over the years, practicing breathing and nose exercises might be the most important thing you do!

My favorite thing about alternate nostril breathing is how it demonstrates our respiratory system’s unique capability.

You can tap into the autonomic nervous system by simply changing how air passes through the nostrils. It’s incredible – and only thoroughly believable once you try it yourself.

Remember, breathing practice takes time. Be patient. 

The Benefits of Perfecting Nasal Breathing Techniques

Why do you want to invest the time and effort into perfecting your nasal breathing techniques? The answer to this question is that nasal breathing boosts your health in myriad ways. Some of the benefits of nasal breathing are highlighted below.

Scientists continue to discover new benefits as more research is performed on the science of breathing. 

#1 – Better Athletic Performance 

Many of us are looking for ways to boost our performance in the gym or on the athletic fields, to become healthier, better athletes. Traditionally, the answer for improved performance has been to go to the gym more regularly or practice harder or more frequently.

But, there may be a secret weapon into upping your game, including improving aerobic performance, that requires much less physical effort. 

This secret, or not-so-secret weapon, is nasal breathing

Often, many athletes’ most significant impediment to performance is feeling short of breath. As people feel this way, they often gasp for air taking deeper and deeper breaths through their mouth.

The Counterintuitive Aspect of Nasal Breathing

This only leads to a downward cycle of ever-worsening breathing. The best way to counteract this is to slow down, calm down, and begin nasal breathing using one of the techniques mentioned above. 

This seems a bit counterintuitive, but by nasal breathing during exercise, oxygen delivery is slightly decreased, which means you temporarily increase the amount of carbon dioxide in your lungs.

The exchange between oxygen, carbon dioxide, and hemoglobin in the blood cells benefit. Generally, exercise physiologists believe that this process helps your body adapt to carbon dioxide, which is upped during exercise.

Engaging in long-term aerobic exercise will increase with time! The approach will have both short- and long-term benefits. 

Nasal breathing can be used at any point in time during exercise. But, it is especially effective when a person has a stomach cramp or a side ache.

The next time that happens to you, instead of stopping your workout, slow down and try out nasal breathing. 

#2 – The Fight or Flight Response 

In moments of stress, people feel like they have two options – fight or flight. When faced with these alternatives, stress levels skyrocket, and you may find yourself struggling to breathe.

You may also feel your heart race and your blood pressures increase dramatically. Often, the advice in these situations is to breathe deeply to calm down and slow your heart rate.

Studies have shown nasal breathing to slow heart rates, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which also has been shown to reduce high blood pressure over time.

Hacking the Parasympathetic Nervous System

Slow, deep breaths are almost always a good idea. But, not all deep breaths are created equally.

It is far better to breathe slow, deep breaths through your nasal airway than to breathe them through your mouth. But, it takes time and practice to learn how to breathe deeply through your nose.  

girl nasal breathing in nature
Hack your fight or flight response with simple nasal breathing techniques.

Even though we have been conditioned to believe that the fight or flight response is negative, this is not always true. The fight or flight response also helps prime our immune system, revving up various essential functions in the body. 

The Role Our Nostrils Play

Both sides of the nose play important, but very different, roles in nasal breathing. Inhaling through the right nostril, we help fire up our sympathetic nervous system.

Our blood pressure and our temperature increase, and we also get more oxygen flowing to important parts of our brain, including the prefrontal cortex involved in critical thinking. 

However, too much breathing through the right nostril could overheat our system. It is crucial to bring the left nostril into the breathing process. By breathing through the left nostril, we can slow down our heart rate and temperature. This helps maintain balance in our system. 

If you become skilled at nasal breathing, you can decide what nostrils to breathe through in different situations. For instance, do you need to be fired up at the moment? If yes, then breathe in through the right nostril. Or do you need to slow down and calm down in a stressful situation? If that’s the case, focus on your left nostril.  

#3 – Address Sleep Problems 

Many Americans are sleep deprived, and being sleep deprived can cause a cavalcade of physical and emotional health problems. Some people are sleep-deprived because they are not getting enough hours of sleep.

This could be due to work and family stress. Others are deprived because the sleep that they do get is low-quality sleep. 

Nasal breathing at night can potentially help improve the quality of our sleep in a wide variety of ways. Some people find that when they move from breathing through their mouth to breathing through their noses that they no longer snore, or at the very least, their snoring decreases substantially.

One of the Best Feelings in the World

This benefits them, and it can also help their partner’s sleep. I’ll never forget the first time I moved from mouth breathing to nose breathing at night. Waking up fully refreshed in the morning can change your entire life.

Nose breathing while I slept allowed my body to enter the sleep cycles like my body was designed – without interruption. As you can imagine, I instantly noticed an increase in energy levels throughout the day.

Reduce Troubling Symptoms With Proper Nasal Techniques

In addition, nasal breathing has been shown to reduce the annoying symptoms that many people have. These include a sore throat or dry mouth when large amounts of unfiltered air are sucked in through the mouth.

Research suggests that nasal breathing may also be a tool to fight sleep apnea. Sleep apnea happens when a person stops breathing at night. As one may expect, sleep apnea is a severe problem contributing to various heart diseases.

Thus, anything that can be done to fight sleep apnea potentially helps boost a person´ś overall health. It also suggests that nose breathers may be healthier in general than mouth breathers. 

#4 – Increase Your Nitric Oxide Production 

When we think about breathing and the quality of breathing, we tend to focus on oxygen and carbon dioxide. We are conditioned to believe that more oxygen is good and that carbon dioxide is harmful.

However, there is more to breathing than just this; the science of breathing is subtle and nuanced. Another essential thing to think about is nitric oxide.

Studies show that when people breathe through their noses, nitric oxide increases. If you’re wondering – this is a very good thing.  

The Little Known Secret to Nasal Breathing – Nitric Oxide

What does nitric oxide do? Nitric oxide works to dilate our airways, making them more effective. It also helps our body use oxygen more effectively. This is not the only benefit associated with more nitric acid production.

A wide variety of benefits have been found. Nitric oxide is known to boost the immune system and can also aid in improving blood flow and circulation.

Nitric oxide can also help people more effectively manage their weight, which can lead to many other benefits.  

When inhaled air through the nose passes into the lungs, nasal nitric oxide flows along with it. The nitric oxide expands the alveoli blood vessels, allowing an increased blood volume to pass through.

Studies show air inhaled through the mouth has no increase in nitric oxide, thereby negating this benefit.

#5 – Additional Benefits of Nasal Breathing  

Oral breathing can introduce too much oxygen into the mouth, and this high oxygen content can lead to tooth problems, including tooth decay.

In fact, some studies have found that mouth breathing may be the number one cause of tooth problems, surpassing even more obvious suspects, such as eating too much sugar or poor toothbrushing habits.

Also, people who breathe through their noses are less likely to struggle with bad breath.  

A recent study found interesting potential links between nasal breathing and improved health in children. Some pediatricians suggest that children who breathe through their nasal passageways have an easier time dealing with ADHD symptoms.

However, more research is needed to prove this link definitively. In fact, nasal breathing has been investigated much more in adults than in pediatric patient populations. 

Do You Get More Oxygen Breathing Through Your Nose?

Studies have shown an increase in the amount of oxygen from nasal breathing. An increase in air resistance by 50% allows slower intake and exhale of air through your body.

The slower the process, the more time oxygen has to exchange with cells in the blood on each breath. Nasal breathing creates natural resistance in airflow so the body can use inhaled oxygen more efficiently.

The benefits of this simple fact cascade to almost every aspect of health. From increased aerobic capacity to better functioning organs, the benefits of nasal breathing are only starting to be completely understood.

I’m not a doctor, but scientists have concluded oxygen levels in the blood can increase with nasal breathing.

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Breathing Through the Nose Guides Us to Better Health 

Many people tend to breathe through their mouths instead of through their noses. Mouth breathing can cause a wide range of adverse health impacts.

By working to transition to nasal breathing, people may experience a decreased risk of heart disease, better circulation, improved lung functioning, longer and higher quality sleep, and a reduced risk of mouth and tooth problems.

Given the wide range of health benefits, people should be willing to put in the time and energy to learn proper nasal breathing techniques.

Numerous techniques can be used. At least to start with, two of the better options are diaphragmatic breathing and alternate nostril breathing. Don´t forget, as with anything new, practice will make perfect.

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