Imagine yourself in the midst of an intense workout, pushing your limits and striving to enhance your performance. You may be surprised to learn that a subtle change in your breathing technique can offer significant benefits. Welcome to the world of nasal breathing, an often-overlooked aspect of our daily lives that can impact our performance, health, and even facial structure.
Let’s delve into the science behind this nostril-nurturing practice and share some hacks to help you reap its benefits.
What is Nasal Breathing?
Nasal breathing is the process of inhaling and exhaling air through nostrils, as opposed to mouth breathing. Our noses are quite adept at filtering the air we breathe, helping to keep our respiratory systems strong. Not only that, but Nasal breathing also promotes oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange more efficiently, supporting a healthy functioning of the body's systems.
How Nasal Breathing Works
Let's take a quick tour of the respiratory system to understand nasal breathing. As we have discussed it's the process of inhaling fresh oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, a byproduct of respiration.
The respiratory system includes the nostrils, mouth, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and lungs. Nasal breathing acts like an air purifier, filtering out harmful particles and warming up the air before it reaches your lungs.
As you breathe through your nose, tiny hairs called cilia capture dust and pollen, making your airways cleaner. Oxygen enters your lungs through bronchi into tiny air sacs called alveoli, where it is swapped with carbon dioxide.
This is where the magic happens: Nasal breathing also produces nitric oxide, which helps regulate CO2 levels in your blood. Mouth breathing, on the other hand, lacks this nitric oxide boost, leading to tiredness and stress. So, while we might not be conscious about it, how our body breathes affects how it processes the oxygen in our lungs.
Why Nasal Breathing is better than Mouth Breathing
In a recent study, 10 runners who had been exclusively using nasal breathing during exercise for six months were tested to compare their maximum oxygen intake. They had to breathe both through the nose and mouth. The participants were a mix of both men and women taking standard tests to evaluate various respiratory and exercise markers, including oxygen as well as carbon dioxide levels during exercise.
While their maximum oxygen consumption rate remained unchanged, the runners' respiratory rate and the proportion of oxygen intake to carbon dioxide output decreased when they breathed through their nose. Why? Well, it turns out that nasal breathing allows for a more leisurely breath rate, giving oxygen more time to mingle with the bloodstream. In contrast, mouth breathing can result in quick, shallow breaths that make it trickier to oxygenate our cells.
Therefore, during intense physical activity, one could argue that nasal breathing is considered a more efficient method for supplying the body with the necessary oxygen.
The Bohr Effect Explained: How Nasal Breathing Helps Runner While Running
Still not convinced with the powerful effects of Nasal Breathing? Let us explore what the Bohr Effect is.
The Bohr Effect, first described by Danish physiologist Christian Bohr in 1904, explains how the oxygen-carrying capacity of our blood is affected by changes in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and blood pH. In simpler terms, it highlights the role of CO2 in facilitating the release of oxygen from our red blood cells to our muscles and other tissues.
When we breathe through our nose, we tend to take slower and deeper breaths, which helps maintain higher levels of CO2 in our blood. This increase in CO2, in turn, lowers the blood pH, making it slightly more acidic. Now, this is where the Bohr Effect comes into play. The slight acidity encourages our red blood cells to release more oxygen, allowing our muscles and tissues to receive a greater supply of the vital gas.
Since our cells are basking in oxygenation efficiency, our heart rate remains pleasantly lower for the same level of effort or speed. Consequently, you'll find yourself running faster and farther as your body transforms into an oxygenation champion.
How Nasal Breathing could help us to stay relax
Nasal breathing plays a crucial role in regulating the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Our ANS controls involuntary bodily functions, including heart rate, digestion, and respiratory rate.
Who knew that by taking slow, deep breaths through the nose, we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, known as the "rest and digest" system encouraging deeper levels of relaxation, digestion, whilst decreasing our heart rates. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Why does mouth breathing change your face?
While nasal breathing can contribute to a well-formed and aligned face, mouth breathing can actually do the opposite.
When we breathe through our mouths, we tend to adopt a forward head posture and jut our chins forward, which can lead to misaligned teeth, a receding chin, and a flat or narrow face. The constant mouth breathing also leads to a closed mouth position, which means the tongue doesn't rest in its natural position against the roof of the mouth. This interference in the natural process means the upper jaw doesn't develop fully, leading to a narrow arch, overcrowded teeth, and may even lead to sleep apnea. Doesn’t sound too good right?
But that's not all. Mouth breathing can also impact our overall posture. Our heads tilt forward, which causes our shoulder blades to lift up and round forward, creating an upper body imbalance, which might lead to physical issues.
So, let's all be mindful of our breathing patterns and prioritize nasal breathing to ensure proper facial and body development. We can keep our facial features and posture in tip-top shape by shutting our mouths more often (We tend to speak too much anyway) and letting our noses do the breathing.
Different Nasal Breathing Techniques
While nasal breathing comes naturally to some people, it’s not as easy for everyone. If you are accustomed to breathing through your mouth and would like to transition to nasal breathing, there are a few techniques that can help:
Alternate Nostril Breathing technique
Nadi Shodhana is a yoga and meditation technique that's been around for ages. It involves switching breathing between your nostrils to achieve balance.
To try it out, sit comfortably and straight. Use your right hand to block your nostrils and take a deep breath through your left nostril. Hold for two seconds and exhale out your right nostril. Repeat on the other side.
Nadi Shodhana may sound fancy, but it's super simple. With a little focus, you can achieve better balance and relaxation in no time. So, give it a go and breathe easy!
Belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, boosts air intake by using the diaphragm muscle.
Sit with a straight spine, hands on chest and belly, mouth closed. Inhale deeply through your nose, filling your belly with air.
Exhale through your mouth and repeat. You can be sure you’re doing it correctly if you are feeling your belly fill with air and rise up against your hand. Then, breathe out through your mouth and repeat.
The Buteyko Breathing Method
Buteyko Breathing Method is a rising star in managing respiratory conditions like asthma, COPD, and sleep apnea. To try it out, find a cozy spot, focus on inhaling and exhaling gently through your nose while using your thumb and index to plug your nose and let your breath become calmer with each exhale. Regular practice can work wonders for your respiratory health and make you feel better overall. So why not give it a go and see what benefits you can reap?
The mouth taping method (yes, some people do this)
Mouth taping, a life hack or a scam ? This increasingly popular ritual involves taping one's lips shut while sleeping to encourage breathing through the nose to humidify and filter the air in turn activating the lower lungs for deeper breaths, according to experts. Sleeping with one's mouth open can cause a dry mouth that leads to cavities, bad breath, hoarse voice, and dry, cracked lips (doesn’t sound lovely does it ?).
However, the benefits of mouth taping have not been extensively studied. Mouth taping can reduce snoring in people with mild obstructive sleep apnea by improving airflow and may help bed partners sleep better. However, some of the other benefits claimed, such as clearer skin and a strengthened immune system, are not backed by evidence. Mouth taping may not be suitable for everyone, especially those who struggle to breathe through their nose. Experts suggest alternative approaches, including lifestyle changes like reducing smoking and alcohol consumption, nasal strips, nasal dilators, tongue exercises, and changing sleep positions, to address mouth breathing and snoring.
Potential differences after you do Nasal Breathing
When it comes to exercise performance, nasal breathing may initially feel a bit challenging, especially during high-intensity workouts. But with patience and practice, your body will adapt, and you'll begin to notice improved endurance and overall respiratory function.
Speaking of rewards, nasal breathing can also have a profound impact on your emotional state. When life gets tough and stress starts to take hold, take a deep breath through your nose, and feel the tension begin to melt away. And let's not forget about the immune system benefits of nasal breathing. While the mouth is defenseless against airborne pathogens, nasal breathing acts as a first line of defense, helping to filter and warm the air before it enters the lungs.
So go ahead and take a deep breath through your nose and savor the subtle yet powerful benefits that nasal breathing can bring to your life.