“No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how resilient your genes are, how skinny or young or wise you are—none of it matters unless you are breathing correctly.”
~James Nestor from Breath
Correct breathing may be the missing key in your health practice
If you are engaged in any kind of weight loss or health restoration program but leaving out proper breathing, you may be missing out on the huge benefits of this simple practice. So, do you know how to breathe?
Seriously. Have you ever noticed your breathing and wondered “am I doing it right?” If you were sitting in front of me right now I would bet you lunch that you are breathing wrong. Not only that, I would bet you are suffering from many preventable side effects of incorrect breathing.
By now you are probably saying “of course I know how to breathe. I’ve been doing it since the doctor smacked my bare butt the day I came into this world. I’ve been doing it just fine ever since. What a ridiculous thing to say.” Maybe, but humor me a little longer and see if you still feel the same.
For most of my life, I suffered from chronic sinusitis. At least once a year I would be laid up for a week with a massive sinus infection, followed by 2-3 days of extreme vertigo. I was always stuffed up or sniffing. In the morning I would wake to the hacking up of lung butter, the sticky mucus that drained into my lungs as I slept. My sleep was terrible and lead to a number of other chronic problems. After a particularly nasty winter of 3 back to back sinus infections, I decided enough was enough.
I began a journey of bio-hacking and experimenting with diet and nutritional methods. I also got back into exercising, something I had not done since college. Shortly into my research, I discovered a form of yoga where breathwork was an essential part of the practice. The breathwork, known as the breath of fire, required intense breathing through the nose while simultaneously pumping the diaphragm out and in with each breath. Immediately my clogged sinuses stopped me cold and my mouth popped open, desperate for air. It would take a great deal of practice and a lot of tissues until I reached a point where I could do a simple 5-minute session.
Fast forward a few years and in my never-ending pursuit of optimal health and wellness, I discovered several books on the topic of breathing. I thought it strange that anyone would find enough information to write an entire book on breathing, let alone the half dozen exceptional books I now have in my library. Let’s just say there is a lot to learn about breathing.
In Patrick McKeown’s great book “The Oxygen Advantage” he shares a head-scratching revelation. He says “we can live without food for weeks and water for days, but air for just a few brief minutes. While we spend a great deal of time and attention on what we eat and drink, we pay practically no attention to the air we breathe. It is common knowledge that our daily consumption of food and water must be of a certain quality and quantity. Too much or too little spells trouble. We also recognize the importance of breathing good-quality air, but what about the quantity? How much air should we breathe for optimum health? Wouldn’t it be fair to surmise that air, even more, important than food or water for human survival, must also meet basic requirements?”
The book is packed with eye-popping stats and insightful information, including this gem; “The problem is that correct breathing, which should be everyone’s birthright, has become extremely challenging in our modern society. We assume that the body reflexively knows how much air it needs at all times, but unfortunately, this is not the case. Over the centuries we have altered our environment so dramatically that many of us have forgotten our innate way of breathing. The process of breathing has been warped by chronic stress, sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy diets, overheated homes, and lack of fitness. All of these contribute to poor breathing habits. These, in turn, contribute to lethargy, weight gain, sleeping problems, respiratory conditions, and heart disease.”
If you are a mouth breather you are not alone. Close to 80% of the population breathes wrong.
Nasal breathing increases Nitric Oxide
The 1998 Nobel Peace Prize winners Robert F. Furchgott, Louis L. Ignarro, and Ferid Murad for discovering how Nitric Oxide is a unique signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. Their research has provided unique insights into the primary role Nitric Oxide plays in the body’s overall health and well-being. In their study, they discovered enzymes in the nose and paranasal sinuses that produce Nitric Oxide.
Why is this important? Because low Nitric Oxide levels have been linked to a number of diseases, including high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, digestive tract issues, Alzheimer’s, dementia, erectile dysfunction, and bladder issues.
According to Dr. Kusher, medical weight loss specialist at Compass Fat Loss, “Nitric Oxide is naturally produced by the body, but production falls off precipitously after age 40, ultimately by as much as 85%.” For those concerned about potential deficiencies in Nitric Oxide, his staff can perform a VitalScan diagnostic study in their office. If the results show any stiffening or constriction of vascular walls, he believes you could benefit greatly from increased levels of nitric oxide. As a treatment, Dr. Kusher recommends Neo40, a pleasant-tasting lozenge that dissolves in the mouth. You can Dr. Kusher’s full article on the benefits of Nitric Oxide on the Compass Fat Loss Facebook page.
Some additional ways to increase your Nitric Oxide levels include a healthy diet, regular exercise, and breathing exclusively through your nose.
Did you know how you breathe could also be affecting your sex life? Yup. In a surprising study dating back over one hundred years, scientists found the same erectile tissue normally associated with the breast and genitals is also found in our sinuses. Our sinus tissue becomes engorged with blood or becomes flaccid the same as our genitals.
Want to improve your sex life? Start breathing through your nose.
So what is the proper way to breathe? I’m glad you asked. The simple yet profoundly effective way to breathe is in through your nose, deep into your belly, and out through your nose, making your exhale slightly longer than your inhale. That’s it. Simple, right?
Your Proper Breathing Practice
Step 1. Breathe in through your nose and into your belly. It helps if you actively push out your belly as you inhale.
Step 2. Breathe out through your nose, slightly longer than your inhale. Again, activate your belly, this time by pulling it in.
Step 3. Repeat, all day every day.
Pro Tip #1: To ensure nasal breathing at night put a piece of surgical tape over your mouth. I know this sounds crazy, but it works. I’ve been doing it for months and I sleep great. My kids think I look like a hostage in a bank robbery (Ha!). I recommend 3M Micropore tape.
Why breathe into your belly, AKA abdominal breathing? Your lungs are basically pear-shaped, narrower at the top and wider at the bottom. The bottom has greater blood flow than the top, which means greater oxygenation of the blood for delivery throughout the body. Also, fast chest breathing triggers the fight-or-flight response of your autonomic nervous system, which raises your stress level. Not a good idea.
Pro Tip #2: To ensure optimal oxygenation, breathe in a 5.5 rhythm; breathe in for 5.5 seconds, breathe out for 5.5 seconds, hold for 1 second before your next breath. Practices this for 5 minutes 2-3 times a day to improve your nasal breathing and establish a healthy breath rate.
It helps if you practice this actively for a few minutes a day, increasing the frequency of your practice to several times a day. In a short time, you will gain the awareness of when you are breathing through your mouth and switch to your nose.
Simply changing to nasal breathing regularly you can provide a multitude of health benefits. Give it a try and see if you don’t feel more energized, less stressed, and getting the best sleep of your life!