Did you know the average adult breathes 22,000 times per day! Such a simple way that our body takes care of us without us giving it another thought. Today, I want to challenge you to think about your breathing. We have often been told to slow down and take a deep breath, and many of us know that deep breathing is beneficial, yet the mechanics of deep breathing are worthwhile exploring. The life of man began with a breath, “And God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul” Gen. 2:7. It is interesting to note that the Bible specifically notes that the breath God breathed into Adam was into his nostrils. There are many benefits to nostril breathing as opposed to breathing through our mouth.
It is well documented that mouth breathing increases facial deformities and crowding of the teeth. Mouth breathing can mimic ADHD in children, and should be ruled out whenever the symptoms of ADHD are present (Kalaskar R., Bhaje P., Kalaskar A., et al., 2021). When we breathe through our mouth it dries it out, and causes an increase in the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight state. This fight or flight response raises our blood pressure, decreases our ability to digest food, repair tissue, and fight infection. The fight or flight response is very useful when we are facing an emergency and need to focus all our energy on staying alive. But staying in a chronic state of fight or flight can cause long term damage to our body. Conversely, when we breathe through our nostrils the body is moved toward the parasympathetic state, or the “rest and digest” state. In this state the heart rate and blood pressure decrease, the body is able to properly digest food, repair tissue, fight infections, and grow.
As we breathe through our nostrils the air circulates through nasal turbinates. The nasal turbinates filter out the foreign particles, humidify the inhaled air, this process also releases nitric oxide into the nasal airway and raises the concentration of oxygen in the blood (Lundberg & Weitzberg, 1999).
To increase the air that you breathe through your nostrils you can practice alternate nostril breathing.
Nostril Breathing Exercise
- Hold the right thumb over right nostril.
- Inhale deeply through left nostril.
- At the peak of inhalation, close the left nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril.
- Continue the pattern, switching between the two fingers, closing off the right then the left.
- Place one hand on your lower rib and the other on your chest.
- Take a deep breath through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Which hand moves more?
- Place both hands on your lower ribs and breath deeply into the base of the lungs. Your lungs should expand like a balloon.
- Hold for 5-7 seconds.
- Slowly exhale over 8-10 seconds and you should feel your lungs contract.
- Practice 2-5 minutes each day, and work on developing a habit of diaphragmatic breathing.
Elizabeth Perry, DNP
1) Bergland, C. (2019). Longer exhalations are an easy way to hack your vagus nerve. Psychology Today, 9.
2) Breit S, Kupferberg A, Rogler G, Hasler G. Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain-Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders. Front Psychiatry. 2018 Mar 13;9:44. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044. PMID: 29593576; PMCID: PMC5859128.
3) Kalaskar R, Bhaje P, Kalaskar A, et al. Sleep Difficulties and Symptoms of Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Mouth Breathing. Int J Clin Pediatr Dent 2021;14(5):604–609.
4) Lundberg JON, Weitzberg ENasal nitric oxide in manThorax 1999;54:947-952.