• Mia Brabham

You've Probably Been Breathing Wrong Your Whole Life

nasal breathing
Photo by Michele Seghieri

Did you know that there is a right and wrong way to get oxygen into your system through your lungs?

What most people don’t know — and that I happened to find out as I began navigating my way through living with anxiety over a decade ago — is that breathing through your nose instead of your mouth is a powerful tool that has an incredible effect on your body.

Not only does breathing through your nose have a drastic, relaxing effect on your sympathetic nervous system, but it can help improve athletic endurance and performance as well as your overall health. Breathing through your nose can also reduce your risk of catching a cold because it traps, filters, and destroys pathogens such as pollen, bacteria, viruses, and other foreign bodies before they reach the lungs. If you live with chronic lung disease, it can also decrease shortness of breath. Here are some helpful tips on how to keep your breathing in alignment.

Start with your nose

Air that is breathed directly into the lungs by your mouth is not filtered. The nose is very specifically built for breathing, while the primary purpose of the mouth is to start the digestive process. Although it may feel right at the moment, breathing through your mouth is not as effective or as efficient. The American Lung Association tells us that when you breathe through your nose, your nostrils and their microscopic hairs called cilia filters, warms, and humidifies dry air in a way that the mouth cannot.

Just close your mouth, relax your tongue and jaw, and breathe in and out through your nose. If you find yourself in a dry or cold environment, breathing through your nose is especially helpful because your body will receive air with more moisture that’s been warmed to your body temperature.

Thanks, nose!

Move to your belly

Just above your stomach is your diaphragm, which is a major muscle working together with your body in the respiration process. When you breathe properly, the breath begins in your nose and moves to your stomach as the diaphragm contracts. You should see your belly expand and feel your lungs fill with air.

Mark Courtney, a respiratory therapist, told the American Lung Association that this is "the most efficient way to breathe, as it pulls down on the lungs, creating negative pressure in the chest, resulting in the air flowing into your lungs."

Consider your meals

If and when possible, avoid large meals and foods that cause bloating. When your stomach bloats, it can cause the abdomen to push upwards, which limits your diaphragm's movement. If you are experiencing bad breath or gum disease, it might not be the food you eat. Chronic mouth breathing can lead to both of these.

Give your breathing grace

Remember that the body is built to breathe, so you don’t have to overthink it. Once you take that breath, it should start to come naturally. If you’re sick, have nasal congestion, or are participating in increased physical activity, sometimes it feels impossible to breathe through anything but your mouth. If you’re temporarily unable to breathe through your nose, staying hydrated can help in the interim. Hydration helps thin secretions and allows the mouth and throat to add humidity to the air we breathe.

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