First and foremost, we need to know why nasal breathing is much more efficient and useful for our health.
When breathing through our mouth, we a using accessory muscles to breathe in, along with creating a state of hyperinflation (over-breathing).
Not only is this inefficient and causes increase muscle tension around the neck, but we actually have a decrease in our ability to utilize oxygen.
Breathing thru our nose, increases our ability to supply oxygen to working tissues in the body, and lowers our overall energy demands, thus decreasing stress and tension in the body.
The main reason it oxygenates us more, is that it allows us to increase our CO2 levels in the body.
I'll repeat that. IT ALLOWS US TO INCREASE OUR CO2 LEVELS IN THE BODY.
You may be thinking to yourself, well CO2 is the opposite of what I want, so how is that good?
Fair point, let me explain.
Lets use the analogy of a shuttle bus.
Oxygen binds to a molecule called Hemoglobin.
Hemoglobin is the shuttle bus that floats around our blood stream and drops oxygen molecules off at their designated stop. (mind you there are millions of these shuttles going around).
CO2 is what unlocks the doors to the shuttle, to let oxygen out (think of a child safety door system). Once the oxygen leaves the shuttle and gets utilized by the working tissue, we can then reload the shuttle again by dropping off the CO2 after we exhale.
Here's the problem. When there are low levels of CO2 (such as mouth breathing), the oxygen can't get out of the shuttle. This means the working tissues never get their supply, and the body is triggered to take in more air because the system thinks there is not enough oxygen.
This brings us to the hyperinflated states, rising resting HR, blood pressure, and accessory muscle tension.
Too much CO2 is getting forced out, and not enough O2 is being utilized.
This is what happens when we have a panic attack or have high anxiety. Our pH balance is too high from the lack of CO2, making us hyperventilate.
That's why breathing into the brown paper bag to get MORE CO2 in the body works so well.
You need more helpers to unlock the doors of the shuttle buses so oxygen can get in and keep the body efficient.
Now not everyone is having a panic attack, but with the excessive use of mouth breathing, we are staying at a low level state of decreased CO2 levels and increasing potential anxiety states.
In performance, the longer we can maintain a quieter, nasal breath with increased intensity, we can better utilize oxygen for working muscle tissues that need it. This can greatly improve aerobic training thresholds and improve health measures such as lowering resting HR and blood pressure.
Here's a quick way to get started while at rest.
Take a timer, and sit comfortably.
Take a small, SILENT inhale thru your nose for 3-4 seconds, then slowly exhale thru the nose for 3-4s (try to match the time in and out), followed by a 1-2s pause, no air in or out. (This allows you to build up CO2). Complete this for 2-5 minutes, all while keeping the mouth closed!
Don't get me wrong, this WILL be slightly uncomfortable at first, because your body is not used to breathing slower or having an increased level of CO2. Just adjust the breathing time to comfort, but you do need slight discomfort in order to notice a change.
You DON"T want to to be so uncomfortable where you are gasping for air.
(You may start to sweat and feel tingling doing this at first, as your body is sensitive to the change in pH levels).
Once you can do this at rest, try light exercise for 5-20min with strict slow inhales and exhales thru the nose at a slower pace.
The quieter the breath and less labored it is, the more efficiently you can oxygenate the body.
Plenty of research has been done regarding nasal breathing and it's benefits, but it has not been so mainstream. If you look at research on the Buteyko Method or the works of Patrick McKeown, you can certainly get more in-depth.
Try getting your breathing in slower and feel that oxygen work the way it should.
If you need guidance or more info, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask your question today!
Dr. Peter Dionisopoulos is the owner and founder of Dynamic Performance & Rehab. He has worked with many high-level athletes and military personnel, but his true passion is to help active adults maintain their lifestyle by providing information and potential solutions to their aches and pains so they can continue with the activities they love.