Nasal breathing basics - why and how ?

Take a deep breath….

Did you breath through your mouth or your nose ?

If you breathe through your mouth, you are most likely one of the massive percentage of chronic hyperventilators out there. This really is an epidemic!

But air is air right? Who cares if it comes in through the nose or the mouth?!!

There are some distinct advantages to breathing through our noses as opposed to our mouths :

  1. Filtration : your nose contains millions of hairs that  act like a filter for pathogens and debri in the air that you breath, (they also activate the parasympathetic nervous system and help to bring us out of fight or flight)

  1. Humidification : the cilia filters in our noses moisten the air and either warm or cool it before it enters the lungs creating an optimal state for gas exchange.

  1. Increased carbon dioxide uptake : carbon dioxide is a gas that we exhale, it is a waste product from the burning of carbohydrate and fat for energy utilisation, but it isn’t just a waste product, we actually need to reuptake a certain amount of carbon dioxide in order to be able to absorb oxygen into the tissues and oxidise fat as a fuel source. Breathing through the nose restricts the amount of carbon dioxide we exhale and retains some for reuptake which allows us to absorb the oxygen into our tissues. Mouth breathing allows us to dump too much carbon dioxide and therefore degrades our ability to absorb oxygen.

  1. Nitrogen oxide : as you breathe through your nose, nitrogen oxide is released into the air from your nasal passages. Nitrogen oxide serves several purposes

1.Vasodilation : nitrogen oxide dilates the airways and allows us to breath a larger volume of air through our passages (if you’re a chronic mouth breather, it’s very common to feel like your nose is clogged and you can’t breathe properly through it, this will open up over time from the nitrogen oxide, asthma sufferers have even reported huge benefits and even complete relief of symptoms from practicing nasal breathing)

2.Increased oxygen uptake : nitrogen oxide allows us to uptake 30% more oxygen through a process called perfusion which makes the blood flow to more surface area of the lungs.

  1. Nervous system down regulation : when we enter a fight or flight state, we automatically pant through our mouths in order to activate our anaerobic energy system (burning sugar without needing oxygen to liberate energy) and put us in sympathetic nervous state. This also works in reverse : Chronic mouth breathing can actually trigger a  constant low level state of fight or flight activation which can lead to anxiety and interfere with sleep patterns and ruin your ability to recover.

The opposite happens with nasal breathing , it helps us to activate our rest and digest (parasympathetic) nervous state, gives us the ability to fight anxiety and stress and allows us to recover adequately from physical stresses.

If you are any way interested in aerobic fitness (hint : you should be) it is very important to know that the latest research is pointing towards the fact that you are only aerobic (using fat as fuel) when you are breathing through your nose! Any time you breath through your mouth, you are anaerobic (using carbs as fuel). Runners take note !!!

Practicing your nasal breathing helps to open up your airways, absorb more oxygen, fight sickness, utilise fat as your primary fuel source, and increase your aerobic health.

But perhaps most importantly, it gives us a tool that we can use to downregulate our nervous system and bring ourselves out of a fight and flight state (sympathetic) into a rest and digest state (parasympathetic). The importance of this to modern homo sapiens cannot be underestimated. We are living in a time where chronic elevation of stress hormones can and is making people extremely sick.

It is no coincidence that the word for spirit, life and breathe is the same word in many ancient languages. Our ancestors recognised the importance of  this so acutely that it is woven in to the fabric of our language.

Spend 10 minutes consciously breathing every day.

Box breathing

Box breathing is a beautifully simple technique to get you started on your breath-work journey.

The fact that the US navy seals have adopted it for their operators speaks for itself, they only use things that are effective and simple.

It allows you to retain co2 and increase your tolerance while down regulating your nervous system and putting you in a parasympathetic nervous state (rest and digest)

Box breathing uses a pattern called 5-5-5-5 :

Inhale for 5 seconds,

hold with full lungs for 5 seconds,

exhale for 5 seconds,

hold with empty lungs for 5 seconds.

You can lengthen or shorten the pattern to make it easier or harder ie. 3-3-3-3 or 6-6-6-6 but it should never feel strained.

Do 30 cycles of box breathing every morning and every night.

During normal activity day to day, Breathe through your nose.

There are tons and tons of varied breath-work patterns up regulating (energizing), down-regulating (calming)  and tons of physical exercises for strengthening and mobilizing areas like the thoracic and hips that have a huge impact on our ability to breathe correctly.

But for now, use box breathing to strengthen your breathing patterns, build your tolerance to co2, develop your nasal breathing, train your body to use fat and oxygen as your primary fuel source rather than carbohydrate.

in later articles we will talk about nasal breathing for training and aerobic base training.