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  • Writer's pictureTania Cucciniello

Nasal Breathing VS Mouth Breathing

The Respiratory System

The anatomy of the respiratory system consists of the nose, nasal cavities, sinuses, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, and lungs. Let’s pause here for a moment. Considering the title of this article, which body part is listed as a part of the respiratory system- the nose or the mouth?

If you answered the nose, you’re correct. This article will highlight the importance of breathing from your nose. Simply identifying that the nose is a part of the respiratory system and not the mouth, should indicate that our bodies were designed to breathe from our nostrils. Here’s what happens when we don’t.

Mouth Breathing

During inhalation, it is the nose that is responsible for absorption, filtering, warming the temperature of the air and humidifying it before it reaches the lungs. If one inhales through their mouth, these first steps of proper air intake are already compromised.

If mouth breathing persists, then one may begin to feel other symptoms arise such as an irritation at the back of the throat, congestion, headaches, fatigue, and poor mood. At this point, the body is already in a state of stress. It may even think it’s getting sick due to the dehydration that is increasing with every mouth breath.

Many of us breathe from our mouths when we feel nasal congestion, but that may only last a few days until the nose is unblocked and we’re happy to be breathing through our noses once again. However, other people who have been suffering from ENT issues, chronic sinusitis or tinnitus are not so lucky. What if the nose never unblocks? At least not unless medication like a decongestant is taken.

Then mouth breathing can become the default method for inhaling and exhaling, which leads to other chronic health problems. If mouth breathing is performed for just a few consecutive days, data shows an increase in hypertension, heart rate variability, snoring, sleep apnea, muscle and joint pain, stressful thoughts, and even an increase in weight.

If mouth breathing is performed for just a few consecutive months, then physiological changes start to occur in the nasal passages and throughout the skull! Inhaling through the mouth causes soft tissues to collapse, dental arches to narrow, crooked teeth that may start to form, and jawlines to become slack.

With each day that passes like so, the shape of the airways likely keeps changing and keeps affecting many health factors from sleep levels to performance levels.

Nasal Breathing

Inhaling from the nose has the opposite effect for the airways, in which they make the passages wider, therefore easier to breathe. Nasal breathing can also reverse the damage of mouth breathing!

The interior of the nose is lined with a thin layer called the mucous membrane, which is rich in blood vessels. Breathing in through the nose helps utilize and dilate these blood vessels. This improves oxygen intake, calms the nervous system, and allows breathing to become slower. When breathing is slower it helps lower blood pressure, stabilizes heart rhythms, reduces snoring, reduces congestion, reduces aches and pains, reduces stressful thoughts, and ultimately can ease the body and mind into a state of relaxation.

Surprisingly, the nostrils are also covered in erectile tissue. The same tissue that is found on genitals. With proper nasal breathing, the nose too can become engorged with blood, provoking an arousal of feelings such as joy, calm, clarity, and even a sense of euphoria. This is part of the reason why after a yoga or breathwork class, one feels so vital, healthy, and Zen.

Nasal Breathing for Athletic Performance

In the book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, author James Nestor highlights one of many studies, including this next one by Dr. John Douillard on a group of cyclists in the 1990’s. The excerpt reads:

“During the first trial, Douillard told the athletes to breathe entirely through their mouths. As the intensity increased, so did the rate of breathing, which was expected. By the time the athletes reached the hardest stage of the test, pedaling out 200 watts of power, they were panting and struggling to catch a breath.
Then Douillard repeated the test while the athletes breathed through their noses. As the intensity of exercise increased during this phase, the rate of breathing decreased. At the final, 200-watt stage, one subject who had been mouth-breathing at a rate of 47 breaths per minute was nasal breathing at a rate of 14 breaths per minute. He maintained the same heart rate at which he’d started the test, even though the intensity of the exercised had increased tenfold.
Simply training yourself to breathe through your nose, Douillard reported, could cut total exertion in half and offer huge gains in endurance. The athletes felt invigorated while nasal breathing rather than exhausted. The all swore off breathing through their mouths ever again.”

For all these reasons, nasal breathing is far more efficient than mouth-breathing. It is vital to our health that we all learn to breathe in and out through our noses. Nasal breathing can immediately have a positive influence on our levels of performance, energy, stress, sleep, and so much more.

I leave you with a last quote from the author James Nestor:

“No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how skinny or young or strong you are, none of it matters if you’re not breathing properly.”

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