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SHUT YOUR MOUTH, nose breathe and feel better!

I recently shared with my clients about a few of the books that have influenced me on my quest to live a healthier and fitter life. I also asked them to share with me any books they have read that influenced them. In return I received two recommendations suggesting I read the book Breath the new science of a lost art, by James Nestor. So, I invested in it for a summer read. Wow, I was not disappointed with the recommendation, it was fascinating! Here are a few of the mind blowing insights into why how we breathe is so important for our overall health.

Are you a habitual mouth breather or a habitual nose breather?

Whether we breathe through our mouth or our nose you may think is of no real consequence, however the extensive research that Nestor has evaluated looking at both the findings of modern science and of ancient practices, clearly points towards the extremely beneficial practice of becoming a habitual nose breather. Breathing through our nose has a profound effect on so many systems within the body. Nasal breathing filters, moistens, and warms the air we breathe for easier absorption, these are things we all mostly know. However, there is a lot more to discover.

Our nasal cavities are significant areas of tissue (about the size of a golf ball) that pulse to their own rhythm, opening and closing like a flower in response to our moods and mental states, orchestrating a multitude of functions for the body. Nasal breathing triggers a cascade of hormones and chemicals that lower your blood pressure, ease your digestion, and regulate your heart rate. Nasal breathing enhances the quality of our sleep, it responds to the stages of a woman’s menstrual cycle and has an unexpected role In problems like erectile dysfunction (the nasal cavity also contains erectile tissue like that of our sexual organs). Our noses are a use it or lose it organ, the more we breathe through our noses the easier it is to do so, however if we habitually breathe through our mouths in turn it actually becomes harder to breathe through our noses. Nose breathing trains the tissues inside the nasal cavity and throat to flex and stay open.

In the book Nestor discusses an experiment where for 10 days he and another man Olsson have their nasal cavities blocked up forcing them to mouth breathe only, all day and all night, the results are profound. During the experiment Nestor’s blood pressure spiked, his pulse and heart rate reflected a state of stress and his mental clarity hit rock bottom. Nestors' snoring increased 4,820% by the end of the 10 days and for the first time in his life he started to experience obstructive sleep apnoea. Additionally a lack of enough deep sleep prevents the pituitary gland from optimally functioning, this triggered more night time thirst and toilet trips for Nestor.

The second phase of the experiment had Nestor and Olsson solely use their noses’ to breathe all day and all night, for 10 days. The day they removed the plugs and tape from their noses their blood pressure dropped, carbon dioxide levels rose and heart rates normalised. At night Nestor used a postage stamp sized piece of medical tape (like a Charlie Chaplin moustache moved down an inch) to keep his mouth closed, again the benefits were almost immediate, by the third night Nestor went from snoring for 4 hours a night to 10 mins and as his snoring disappeared so did his sleep apnoea. Sleep and life became something Nestor and Olsson embraced again, feeling loads better their athletic performances also improved with nose breathing.

Are you over breathing? It's time to slow down!

Nestor also discusses in Breath how we need to slow down our breathing. “Breathing is like rowing a boat: taking a zillion short stilted strokes will get you where you are going, but they pale in comparison to the efficiency and speed of fewer, longer strokes”. When we breathe fast, at a rate of approximately 20 breaths/min we only take into our blood 50% of the oxygen we breathe because so much of it remains in the ‘dead space’ for gaseous exchange of the upper respiratory tract. Compare that to 12 breaths/min where we can utilize 70% of the air we breathe and at the optimal rate of approximately 6 breaths/min we utilize 85% of the air that we breathe as it has a chance to be drawn fully down into the lower lobes of the lung. Breathing slowly is so much more efficient for oxygen exchange, it lowers blood pressure, systems of the body work better, our circulation is more efficient (this is how some people can raise their body temperature through breathing, Tummo / Win Hof methods), our diaphragm moves better which in turn encourages more lymph fluid movement promoting good health. Our body is more efficient and able to do more with less, something which goes against the modern society ethos of do more, do more, do more! Over breathing is also linked to anxiety and asthma. It is a natural response to the triggering of our fight or flight response. However, it has been documented today that instead of this response being triggered by seeing a true imminent danger like a tiger we are eliciting our flight of flight response frequently when we read e-mails, or when we are over stimulated and stressed out with the multiple communication channels embedded in today’s modern life. So the problem is many of us are habitually over breathing and habitually breathing through our mouths.

This can also have a huge impact on our gut health. How often are we sitting down in a rush for our meals, or grabbing food on the go, when our bodies are likely in a stressed state of over breathing through our mouths. Our body is simply not ready to receive the food we are providing it. There is a hypothesis that some food reactions may be mistaken as allergies or intolerances but could actually be more of a reaction to how we are breathing and how our bodies sub consciously perceive this breath pattern. Taking a transition period of even just 5 mins before we eat our lunch, a short walk or a few moments of slow nasal breathing can have a profound effect on our body’s ability to digest and absorb the food we are providing it with. Indeed Nestor’s hypotheses is that the reason we have developed the practice of saying grace before a meal in so many cultures or religions is actually based on this scientific benefit of slowing down, finding a moments gratitude and space to breathe slowly prepares our bodies to optimally receive the food we are about to eat.

Does Nestor say we have to exclusively breathe through our noses or our health will suffer? No, but the evidence is clear we need to form the habit of nose breathing to feel our best.

The book contains so much more than I can capture here so if this has caught your interest I highly recommend reading the book or try listening to the interview #268 with James Nestor on the podcast Feel Better, Live More with Dr Rangan Chatterjee.

Tell me in the comments you started to alter your breathing as you read this.😉

Enjoy and feel better x


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