There are many breathing techniques, from hyperventilation, retention, to one nostril, slow and many other forms of breathing that all impact health in ways that are superbeneficial to vitality and longevity. Of all breathing techniques, nose breathing is one of the most important.
“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.” (Sanskrit proverb)
The air we breathe is first processed through the nose. The nose is a miraculous filter lined with tiny hairs called cilia. The cilia have many functions: they filter, humidify and warm or cool the air (depending on the temperature) before it enters the lungs. It is estimated that cilia protect our bodies against about 20 billion particles of foreign matter every day!
Once it exits the nose, air passes through the mucus-lined windpipe. This is another avenue to trap unwanted particles before they enter the lungs. Next, air enters the lungs, where the oxygen is pumped into the bloodstream and circulated through the body. In exchange, the air leaving the body carries with it carbon dioxide from the cells, a waste material that is expelled through exhalation.
The Benefits of Nasal Breathing
Breathing through the nose is the way our bodies were designed. In fact, it’s been said that breathing through your mouth is about as practical as trying to eat through your nose!
According to experts, most people breathe at 10-20 percent of their full capacity. Restricted breathing greatly decreases respiratory function, which in turn decreases energy levels in the body. Since oxygen is our main source of life, and exhalation is the main way to expel toxins from our bodies, poor breathing can contribute to a multitude of health problems, from high blood pressure to insomnia. Poor breathing may even contribute to some forms of cancer: In 1931, Otto Warburg won a Nobel Prize for determining that only oxygen-starved cells will mutate and become cancerous. That is proof enough for me to learn to breathe properly!
Many of us feel stressed out, overworked, and overstimulated during our daily lives, which leaves us in a chronic state of fight or flight response. Breathing in and out through the nose helps us take fuller, deeper breaths, which stimulates the lower lung to distribute greater amounts of oxygen throughout the body. Also, the lower lung is rich with the parasympathetic nerve receptors associated with calming the body and mind, whereas the upper lungs — which are stimulated by chest and mouth breathing — prompt us to hyperventilate and trigger sympathetic nerve receptors, which result in the fight or flight reaction.
The lungs actually extract oxygen from the air during exhalation, in addition to inhalation. Because the nostrils are smaller than the mouth, air exhaled through the nose creates a back flow of air (and oxygen) into the lungs. And because we exhale more slowly through the nose than we do though the mouth, the lungs have more time to extract oxygen from the air we’ve already taken in.
When there is proper oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange during respiration, the blood will maintain a balanced pH. If carbon dioxide is lost too quickly, as in mouth breathing, oxygen absorption is decreased, which can result in dizziness or even fainting.
Air that we inhale through the nose passes through the nasal mucosa, which stimulates the reflex nerves that control breathing. Mouth breathing bypasses the nasal mucosa and makes regular breathing difficult, which can lead to snoring, breath irregularities and sleep apnea.
Breathing through the nose forces us to slow down until proper breath is trained; therefore, proper nose breathing reduces hypertension and stress. It also helps prevent us from overexerting ourselves during a workout. Our nostrils and sinuses filter and warm/cool air as it enters our bodies. Our sinuses produce nitric oxide, which, when carried into the body through the breath, combats harmful bacteria and viruses in our bodies, regulates blood pressure and boosts the immune system. Mouth breathing accelerates water loss, contributing to dehydration.
The nose houses olfactory bulbs, which are direct extensions of part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is responsible for many functions in our bodies, particularly those that are automatic, such as heartbeat, blood pressure, thirst, appetite and sleep cycles. The hypothalamus is also responsible for generating chemicals that influence memory and emotion.
The increased oxygen we get through nasal breath increases energy and vitality.
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