Why should you breathe through your nose?
This short and sweet series gives you bitesize chunks of information about all things to do with breathing.
This week we are focusing on why it’s so important to breathe through your nose at all times. If you do yoga, you will be used to nose breathing during your practice, but do you continue to nose breathe when you step off your mat, or do you breathe through your mouth?
Breathing expert, Patrick McKeown, states that ‘Noses are for Breathing, Mouths are for eating’ and he is on a mission to try and get as many people as possible to breathe through their noses.
Although humans are quite capable of breathing through both their nose and their mouth, we were all born breathing through our nose. Nature shows us that most land animals use nasal breathing: with dogs being the exception – as they pant with tongues hanging out to cool themselves down. The only other time you see animals mouth breathing is when they are sick and need veterinary care. Perhaps that should set some alarm bells ringing.
Back to the question: why should you breathe through your nose? Now this is a huge subject, so I am just going to touch on some of the key points, so in a nutshell:
- Your nose was designed to restrict the volume of air coming through your nostrils and entering your lungs; this streamlining boosts the efficiency of oxygen uptake.
- As you inhale, your nose moistens, warms and purifies the air, preparing it to enter your lungs at the right temperature.
- The mucus and hairs in your nostrils filter out impurities, and act as the first line of defence for your body’s immune system, helping to protect your body from bacteria and airborne pollutants.
- Nose breathing is synonymous with diaphragmatic breathing which stimulates the rest and digest mode.
Now if you compare this to your mouth… your mouth is designed for eating; it is merely a backup, or secondary breathing system if your nose is blocked, or you need to temporarily engage in intense exercise, for example if you are being chased by a lion.
So why shouldn’t you breathe through your mouth?
- Your mouth cannot filter, warm, or moisten the air you breath in, so, it comes in cold, dry and dirty.
- Mouth breathers tend to chest breath which stimulates the flight and fight response.
- Mouth breathing can lead to a blocked nose and inflammation of the airways.
- It lowers CO2 levels in the body and can de-oxygenate the brain and muscles.
- Mouth breathing dehydrates your body and can cause bad breath.
- A dry mouth due to mouth breathing increases the acidification of the mouth and can result in more dental cavities and gum disease.
- Mouth breathing can significantly increase occurrences of sleep apnea (breathing stops and starts during sleep) and snoring.
There aren’t really any positives for mouth breathing – except maybe that at least you are breathing.
So, maybe take a moment in your day to notice your breath and see whether you are breathing through your nose or mouth. You may well find it easier to notice how other people breathe – try not to stare!!
If you realise that you are a mouth breather, maybe try and remember to try nasal breathing at certain times during the day. Like everything worth doing… it takes practice.
When I started my breath journey, I discovered that I too was a mouth breather. Since practising continual nasal breathing, I sleep better, my nose is clearer than it has ever been and I have been so much calmer and relaxed – which is pretty amazing considering what we are dealing with at the moment.
If you think it is difficult to nose breath, just consider what Patrick McKeown says:
If you can breathe through your nose for a minute, you can breathe through your nose for the rest of your life.
Why not have a go… you may find that you can Breathe Yourself Better.
Patrick McKeown (2015) Oxygen Advantage. Piatkus, London
Robin L. Rothenberg (2020) Singing Dragon, London