What Are the Benefits of Nasal Breathing?
Most of us don’t stop to think about how we breathe but it’s important to pay attention to how we actually do it. Unlike the mouth, which is designed for eating (supporting the digestive system) drinking and talking, the nose is there to support your respiratory system and help you breathe safely and efficiently, a process that starts at birth to allow newborns to breathe and suckle simultaneously. There’s more when it comes to how we breathe though our nose, too. Although it might feel as though we breathe equally through both nostrils, most of us engage with what’s known as a nasal cycle, whereby one nostril is dominant and is used for the majority of breathing. This switches roughly every couple of hours and is thought to help keep the nasal passages moist and effective. Although it’s something we all do unconsciously, the importance of breathing, especially through the nose, goes right back to ancient civilisations, where nasal breathing was considered medicinal; you only have to understand the power of the breath in your yoga practise to know this. But thanks to busier, more demanding lives, much of this has been forgotten and it’s no wonder that we often find ourselves breathing shallow breaths in and out of our mouths, particularly during stressful times. If you’re keen to get your breathing back on track, here’s why nasal breathing is a good habit to get into.
Why is nasal breathing so important?
One of the many great attributes of the nose is the way in which it functions as a sophisticated filtration system. Tiny nasal hairs help filter out dust particles, pollen, pathogens and allergens and stop them from entering the lungs. These contaminants are then destroyed by nasal enzymes before they can enter the body and cause any damage.
Breathing in through your nose helps to regulate how much air, and oxygen, you take in. Unlike mouth breathing which can mean gulping air unnecessarily which can increase your heart rate, nasal breathing allows for calmer, more measured breathing, which is in part why it’s touted as so important during times of stress and anxiety.
As well as a filtration system, your nose is an excellent humidifier which helps warm and moisturise the air you breathe in, adjusting it to your body temperature and making it easier for your body to use more efficiently. The moistness of the air also means that your nasal passages are kept from drying out which helps protect the delicate tissues inside.
Nasal breathing produces nitric dioxide, a vasodilator which helps to widen your blood vessels and increase oxygen circulation. This is vital for many reasons including improved healing in your body, optimum cognitive function and good cardiovascular health.
Nasal breathing during exercise
During exercise, when we tend to breathe faster and heavier, it’s common for us to automatically begin to breathe through our mouths to cope with the change in pace. Because mouth breathing doesn’t increase oxygen in the body like nasal breathing does, the cells don’t get as much oxygen, which is likely to cause the body more stress and fatigue. Maintaining nasal breathing throughout your workout also allows the body to soften and relax promoting greater recovery after your session.
Nasal breathing during sleep
Breathing through your nose while you sleep can help diminish snoring by keeping the tongue in the correct place in the mouth. It also reduces the risk of sleep apnea; a condition during sleep when throat and tongue muscles are more relaxed and soft tissue causes the airway to become blocked.