Most people breathe around 20-30,000 times per day. Isn’t that incredible?
But, let me ask you a question. How many of those thousands of breaths do you pay attention to?
Breath is the most natural thing in the world, yet it is totally conditioned, and it is also surprisingly easy to get wrong.
We learn to breathe from our significant carers. We learn to use our respiratory muscles to manage stress from copying these carers, and also from our culture. We learn to breathe in exercise from the same sources and the media. Watch how ‘strong men’ breathe in films. Watch how people breathe when they are being emotional. We emulate and entrain these cultural patterns.
How you breathe matters far more than you might think.
How you breathe affects your physiology, your brain states, how much joy you experience, how you do stress, how you stay well and so much more.
Native American cultures such as the Apache Nation and the Sioux Nation were clear in their emphasis that mouth-breathing saps the body of strength, deforms the face and causes stress and disease. This is also evidenced in James Nestor’s new book Breath.
As a young man, I was inspired by stories of the Apache Nation. I ran daily half marathons, fell running, up and down the northern hills of the UK, which was my home. Running with consistent nose breathing on every inhale. Running was paced by the breath, not by my mind and it’s desire or insistences.
Native American cultures trained their children and youth to only inhale through the nose. I trained my nose to do the same, inspired by those teachings.
I stopped running like this six years ago due to a knee injury from a road crash. Maybe I’ll get back into it one day, but in the meantime, the impact causes more harm than good, yet the teaching from this breath-based running continues strong.
Today I train my students to train their noses, train their nasal breathing and to benefit from the numerous powers this gives.
Chinese culture – in which we find the Taoist practices of Chi Kung, states that breath inhaled through the mouth is ‘Ni-Chi’ or adverse Chi (life-energy), and leads to ‘Bin Chi’, which is toxic Chi and creates diseases in our system.
Chi Kung was a key element of my training that has informed much of my approach to breath based movement and breath practice. The links between mind and body are clearly outlined in this Chinese system.
In all the Asian preventative medical systems of flow-medicine, the brain is not separate from the body, body not separate from mind, body-mind not separate from the cosmos. The breath has always been the Magic Key that links these aspects of our living experience, body, emotion, mind, environment and cosmos.
Vedic culture states that mouth breathing depletes prana (life-force), shortens life and causes disease.
The rules of pranayama were clearly defined in ancient yogic texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Shiva Samhita, Gheranda Samhita, Shiva Swarodaya, and so on. Some of these texts make no sense to the modern mind, yet inside the code of the ‘twilight’ language in which they were written are jewels of insight.
These jewels are reiterated in modern yogic texts on yogic breathwork. Only in a few specific practices is mouth inhalation taught, and this is after the base practice of nasal inhalation and what is called ‘full yogic breath’ is fully established through disciplined practice.
This tradition also clearly enunciates that poor practice (including mouth breathing) leads to disease and early death.
Depth breathwork training from this tradition is also the roots of Conscious Connected Breathing and Holotropic Breathwork and all their derivative schools, yet so few from these schools know this.
What does Modern Science say about breathwork?
My background is also a biologist. I value science and also recognise the limits of scientific method, simply that there is so much to know!
So let’s look at what modern empirical research shows about the effects of mouth breathing on our nervous system, brain and body.
There is a shortage of some information, with smaller studies than would be ideal, however the current suggestions are that predominantly inhaling through the mouth can lead to…
- Increases in ADHD
- Increased erectile dysfunction
- Devolution of the nasal passages with concomitant increased mouth breathing
- Dental problems
- Facial deformity
- Increased stress states
- Can create trauma
- Raised blood pressure
- Increased risk of heart dysfunction and heart attacks
- Reduction in HRV (with all the associated diseases of this)
- Increase in heart rate
- Increased psychological difficulties such as anxiety and depression
- Increased sleep apnea (with all the associated diseases of this)
- Reduction in hydration
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Increased risk of cancer
- Reduction in functional brain cells
- Disturbance of oxygen flow to the prefrontal cortices
- Reduction in longevity
The right and healthy way to breathe is through your nose. Science says this too, so why do so many breath-workers teach differently?
We’ll explore more of this talked about topic in Part Two. For now, spend five minutes of conscious, connected nose breathing – first to the count of four, then if this feels comfortable, extend the length of the inhale and exhale in increments. Most importantly, notice how you feel.
This simple breathing technique is a superpower for soothing and calming your parasympathetic nervous system – and the absolute gem? It’s free and available 24/7, so why don’t you start to pay it some attention?
This is the first step, then my online course Breathwork for Inner Strength will show you much more. In fact, when you make this positive and empowering investment in your wellbeing, it will change the way you look at life forever.
With practice, this kind of conscious breathwork will equip you with key breathing techniques you can utilise daily for less stress and greater mental, emotional and physical health, and that’s a promise.