Breathing gently through the nose into the lower lungs is key to relaxing your body and mind. Taking deep breaths does not mean taking big breaths, which can increase excitability.
The key to greater benefits is to do less and relax more.
Have you noticed that animals usually breathe with their mouths closed?
Breathing through the nose offers significant benefits for health and well-being. Studies described in a National Geographic article suggest that breathing cold air as well as dry air lowers our ability to fight off viruses, and accounts in part for the greater number of illnesses during winter months. Nasal breathing helps protect us by warming and moistening air.
In U.S. News & World Report, a story covered athletes who’d committed to nasal-only breathing during workouts for six months. The result: “their bodies didn’t have to work as hard to get the same amount of oxygen. Researchers believe this is because of the lower breath rate used during nasal breathing, which allows more time for oxygen to get to the bloodstream.”
Just as when exercising, making this simple change when you’re at rest will increase your relaxation and ease: Switch to breathing through your nose. At the end of this post, we’ll get you started.
How Nasal Breathing Helps
With less effort, gentle nasal breathing increases the oxygen that reaches your tissues, so you’re already calming down. The U.S. News & World Report article noted that nasal breathing also encourages better posture and diaphragmatic breathing. If you’ve ever attended a yoga class or guided relaxation, you’ve probably been instructed to shift from breathing into the chest to breathing into the belly.
The upper part of the lungs is associated with the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system, which chest breathing and big breaths activate. The lower part of the lungs include nerves that activate the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system. Breathing gently into that lower-lung area stimulates parasympathetic activity.
Breathing through the nose helps us at biomechanical, biochemical, and neurological levels. From helping distribute blood more evenly through the lungs to improving our mood and even our appearance, it’s worth committing to.
Then how come people breathe through their mouths?
If the people around us breathe through their mouths, we are likely to mirror them. If a baby had a sinus infection that caused mouth breathing for a time, the habit might remain long after the infection has passed. Mouth breathing can be a response to stress as the nervous system mounts a fight-or-flight response to perceived threat. Slumped posture can increase the likelihood of mouth breathing.
Taking the time to change this habit will likely succeed and bring benefits.
What if your nose is congested? A small percentage of people have chronically blocked nasal passages, and medical treatment might make sense. For most of us, even with respiratory allergies or a temporary head cold, we can work with you on simple techniques to unblock the nose.
✔️Nasal Breathing: Let’s Get Started
Are you already breathing through your nose? One sign that you’re sleeping with your mouth open is awakening with a dry mouth and irritated throat.
What about during the day? With an attitude of curiosity, spend two or three days gently observing yourself, then make the change you want.
- Set a reminder on your phone or clock to go off every few hours (not at night!), and notice whether you’re breathing through the nose or mouth. Let your attention be light and kind, just noting what you discover without changing anything.
- Practice nasal breathing while you’re paying attention to it for five minutes each day. Place your lips together, but keep your teeth apart. There should be no jaw tension. Allow the lower jaw to soften into the sling of muscles that supports it. The tongue can rest on the roof of your mouth.
- If you find you sometimes breathe through the mouth during the observation period, shift into action mode. Use the same reminder system to cue you to close your lips and relax your jaw.
- Once you are more regularly breathing through the nose, set your reminders for every few days or weeks. Or forever.
Whenever you need to collect yourself, place a hand on your belly. Breathing through the nose, feel a small, gentle inhalation inflate the bellow under your hand. Follow it with a relaxed and slightly longer exhalation. Repeat until calmer.
And each time you notice yourself breathing through an open mouth, exhale through the nose a breath of thanks for this opportunity to change.