Breathing, it comes as natural as...breathing. Right? This automatic and largely unnoticed function of the human body is remarkable. I say unnoticed because we only notice we’re doing it when we’re either struggling or giving it our full concentration.
At any other time, our breath comes into the body drawing in oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Our body uses what it needs and expels what it doesn’t in one fluid, beautiful movement. It’s a wonderful mechanism.
But it has the potential for being a problematic mechanism, due mainly to poor breathing techniques. As a physician, it's my opinion that wrong breathing is nothing short of a health crisis. It affects every aspect of your health, as we'll talk about later.
Mouth Breathing Vs Nose Breathing
What could be the difference between these two natural processes? Does it make that much difference to how we feel and how our body responds?
The answer is an emphatic yes.
This might surprise you. After all, the end result feels much the same, but these two methods are not created equal and here’s why. If the majority of your breathing is done through your mouth, the following complications can occur:
- Abnormal development of teeth in children
- Facial deformity
- Poor growth in children
- Bad breath
- Gum disease
- Worsening of pre-existing conditions such as asthma
- Sleep apnoea
- Swelling of tonsils and adenoids
- Speech and swallowing difficulties
An extraordinary list from something as simple as breathing with your mouth open most of the time. But here’s the thing, it isn’t just physical symptoms like those above that are exacerbated. There’s more going on inside your body and by that I mean your levels of stress.
If you’re feeling stressed or experiencing symptoms of anxiety, often you can feel your breathing change. You might start breathing quickly and taking short, shallow breaths (hyperventilating). During this state, it’s likely you’ll start breathing through your mouth. It’s your body’s first reaction to getting enough oxygen into your body. But of course, it doesn’t work, because the breaths you’re taking are neither slow nor deliberate enough to fulfil that need.
In fact, they can make the symptoms feel worse. It’s a vicious circle. A stressed body leads to poor breathing, which leads to more stress and on it goes. Unfortunately, it can become a pattern that leads to a buildup of stress and associated symptoms.
The solution is to create better breathing habits. You can read more about that here. But let’s look at why nose or nasal breathing is the better alternative.
What The Nose Knows
Though the nasal and oral passages are closely positioned, the two treat breathing differently. If you breathe regularly with your mouth open, your tongue is placed incorrectly and restricts the airflow. People who experience this often get into the habit of tipping their heads forwards to help overcome this restriction. This in turn can lead to postural problems. It's nothing short of a chain effect.
Nose breathing, on the other hand, brings benefits to the body. The most important thing to remember about mouth breathing vs nose breathing is that the nose adds something called Nitric Oxide to breath.
I can’t stress enough how important this molecule is in healthy lung function.
It helps the lungs better absorb oxygen and reduce high blood pressure. This molecule maintains the body’s balance, aids in its defense against illness and in neurotransmission. It’s produced in the nose in minute amounts and follows the stream of air straight into the lungs where it can go to work. Breathing through the mouth does not achieve this.
Besides Nitric Oxide, the nose carries out other key functions. It warms the breath up before it hits the lungs and has an inbuilt and complicated filtering system removing impurities.
When it comes to helping manage symptoms of stress and anxiety, learning to breathe better is essential. It isn't possible to remove the causes of stress from life but helping the body deal with the symptoms better is beneficial. You can do this by stopping mouth breathing. Or at the very least minimizing how much you do it.
How to Stop Mouth Breathing
It's good to know it's never too late to learn good technique. There are many sources of information out there that can help. The other great thing is that you'll quickly feel the benefits in your body after you start breathing better.
There are some practical steps you can take to learn how to breathe through the nose instead of the mouth. If you struggle with a blocked nose, make sure your environment is free of allergens including dust and pet hair. Prop yourself up a little at night to encourage more open nasal passages when you sleep. If your sleep is affected by mouth breathing and you can't rectify it yourself, you may need to seek help from a sleep professional.
If you suffer from a medical condition that means your nose is blocked frequently, experiment with natural remedies to clear it.
But, the key to nose breathing the majority of the time is creating a habit.
Start by paying attention to how you're breathing. Spend a few minutes, several times a day observing yourself. Make a conscious effort to take 10 minutes to breathe in through your nose and breathe out through either your nose or mouth. You can keep your mouth open very slightly to do this.
Don't worry about taking deep breaths, and concentrate on inhaling through your nose. It's rare for people to take in too little oxygen. Your body just doesn't allow it. You can count as you breathe in if it helps but make sure you spend longer exhaling than inhaling.
Taking it Further
Once you feel the benefit of better breathing. Whether that's through decreased stress levels, better sleep or improved athletic performance, you might want to take it further.
Meditation is a great way to combine mindful breathing with space to relax and focus. There are also techniques such as alternate nostril breathing, great for stimulating better breathing in the body.
Sit with one hand on your knee and use your thumb on the opposite hand to gently press against one nostril. Breathe in through this nostril, then swap thumb for ring finger and block the opposite nostril. Breathe out on the other side. Do this for as long as it feels comfortable. Several times a day is ideal.
Some straightforward exercises but exercises that will make a significant difference to your body's ability to deal with stress.
I'm convinced that better breathing is the key to many more health benefits and it starts from an early age.
Issues that remain uncorrected when young can go on to cause many more problems in adult life. Don't let it increase your symptoms of stress or anxiety. If you're looking for help or need further information on breathing and meditation, head over to our website for guidance. Start making those changes today and see how you get on. I wish you every success.