Although it may sound odd, many people don’t always breathe through their noses. Research shows that nose breathing, being the natural pathway for inhaling and exhaling, is more effective than doing the same through your mouth. It is still estimated that about 30% to 50% of people don’t breathe through their noses, particularly during the early parts of the day. Excessively breathing through the mouth raises the risk of infection in humans.
The human respiratory system
Your respiratory system is actually connected to the nose through the windpipe. Breathing through the mouth becomes essential after a heavy workout or any other activity that requires the body to intake air in larger volumes. The oral and nasal cavities both open in the thoracic cavity, which has both the esophagus and the windpipe. This means that you can indeed breathe both through your mouth and nose, but the natural process involves performing this action through the nose.
The nose has cilia (the small hair in your nose) that warm and humidify the air that passes through it. At the same time, the nose also filters allergic particles from the air. These irritants and other similar material gets trapped by cilia, allowing filtered air to enter the lungs.
Contrary to popular belief, proper breathing involves the stomach and diaphragm rather than the chest. Breathing through the mouth is a classic example of improper breathing and a habit that must be changed.
In some cases, breathing through the nose is difficult for people. Medical conditions, including a deviated septum, abnormalities emerging from injury, nasal inflammation, and nasal masses, can hinder normal breathing. Doctors can recommend a procedure called rhinoplasty in these situations. This surgery changes the shape of your nose for improved breathing. If you think you may be suffering from any of these issues, it is best to consult with a physician at the earliest possible time that you can find. Delaying this checkup can lead to more serious issues down the line.
For people with no such problems, here are a few techniques and exercises that can help the process of breathing through the nose:
Unblocking your nose
In several instances where people prefer to breathe through their mouths rather than their noses, the prevalent issue is a blocked nose. Inhaling and exhaling air through the mouth is a major cause of this because the process increases mucous secretion in the nose, blocking it to some extent. You can unblock your nose in numerous ways, including thoroughly cleaning the insides and using an inhaler.
A common exercise that you can perform to unblock your nose involves a few focused steps. Here they are:
- Start with a small inhale and exhale through your mouth.
- Then, pinch your nose and hold your breathing completely.
- With your breath withheld, take a few rapid steps in a way that your hunger for air increases. Be careful not to go overboard with it, as that is not the purpose of this exercise.
- After this, release your nose and breathe through it only. Keep your mouth shut at all costs.
- Since you are starving for air, the inhales and exhales will be longer than normal, but ensure you do it only through your nose.
- Suppress your second and third breaths while ensuring the rhythm returns to normal.
- Wait a minute and then repeat this process. You will find your nose unblocked after five or six rounds.
The breathing exercise called focus reset
The goal of this exercise by renowned biohacker Kasper van der Meulen is to allow you to do exactly what the name indicates, i.e., focus and reset your breathing. This exercise involves inhaling and exhaling in carefully calculated cycles that get longer every time, allowing you to flex your diaphragm and improve tolerance against CO2. It is best to start this exercise while lying down to improve its efficiency. Here’s how this exercise progresses:
- Step 1: 4 sec inhale followed by a 4 sec exhale. Repeat for 4 rounds in total.
- Step 2: 4 sec inhale followed by a 4-sec hold, then a 4-second exhale followed by another 4-second hold. You perform another 4 seconds of this.
- Step 3: 4-sec inhale, followed by an 8-sec hold, and then a 4-sec exhale, followed by an 8-sec hold for 4 rounds.
There is no hard and fast rule that you continue to push yourselves even at step 2 if you’re not comfortable. Simply return to step 1 and keep practicing step 2 until you are able to get it done without troubling yourself too much.
Ujjayi or the ocean breath technique
This is another breathing technique that allows you to control your inhale and exhale and enables breathing through the nose more easily. Although this practice involves a sequence of breathing cycles through the nose, you don’t have to push yourself too hard. If you can’t keep up the nose breathing, switch to exhaling via the mouth. Ujjayi teaches you how to use your diaphragm to control your inhaling and exhaling, especially through the nose. Here’s how to practice this technique:
- Get yourself into a relaxed, seated, and cross-legged position.
- Next, start a nice, deep inhale that you stretch for five seconds.
- When it comes time to exhale, keep your lips gently pressed against one another. By gently constricting your throat using your fingers, push the air out making a sound that roughly resembles waves in the ocean.
- Keep this exhale going to five seconds too.
- Continue these 5-second inhales and exhales for three to five minutes.
In the third step, if you find it hard to exhale through your nose and feel shortness of breath, simply switch to the mouth exhale. Here, instead of exhaling through the nose, you open your mouth, relax your jaw and then push the air out in a similar manner as in the nose exhale technique.
Breathing through the nose is the natural way to do it. Still, for one reason or the other, people find it hard to inhale and exhale through their noses. You can get yourself checked by a qualified physician. If they rule you don’t have a medical condition that restricts nasal breathing, you can start practicing nose breathing exercises. These techniques allow you to restore the benefits that come with breathing from your nose instead of through your mouth.