Are you breathing wrong? And, what does that even mean?

By: Sydney Levine

“You can eat all the right foods, follow the best diet, and workout out every day, but if you aren’t breathing correctly you will never be healthy” (Nestor, 2020). These were the words spoken by James Nestor, science journalist and author of New York Times Best Seller book Breath. If this statement sounds crazy, that’s because it is. Breathing.. seems simple, right? I mean, we do it every day without even thinking – it’s involuntary, an unconscious action. But the issue is just that: we aren’t thinking about it, when actually, we should be mindful about how we are breathing. Breathing is essential not only to stay alive, but also plays a key role in our overall health, essentially influencing every function of our body. 

When I say mindful breathing, I mean breathing in the most beneficial and correct way. This right way to breathe is breathing through your nose! Our noses were specifically designed to allow us to inhale and exhale; our mouths, not so much. The nose is part of the respiratory system, whereas our mouths are part of the digestive system; yet, a lot of us still seem to breathe incorrectly using our mouths (Berman, 2019.). A whopping 80% of the population is breathing inadequately (Nestor, 2020). How ironic that so many of us are wrong in the way we perform our body’s most basic function. How can you breathe wrong? If you are breathing with your mouth, it can lead to all sorts of health issues. Mouth breathing can lead to sleep apnea, snoring, hypertension, chronic health issues, and even diabetes (Sinus & Nasal, 2020). Really think about what this means: many of our health problems have the potential to be improved by simply correcting how we breathe, something that we all have the capability of doing. Mouth breathing could be an established habit for some, but with basic training and awareness of how you breathe, you have the power to change that. If we aren’t breathing with our noses, then we are not tapping into the complete, full-body benefits that our breath provides.

The nose is one of the most important parts of your body. Humans are designed to breathe with the nose. The nose filters, humidifies, and warms the air that we inhale (Seven Important Reasons Why You Must Breathe through Your Nose, n.d.). If we breathe with our mouths, as James Nestor states, it is as if our lungs are outside our body – an external organ exposed to all the bacteria, viruses, and pathogens that live in the air. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not expose my lungs to all the germs floating around in the heavily polluted air. The mucus in our nose helps collect those harmful substances and works to destroy them (Seven Important Reasons Why You Must Breathe through Your Nose, n.d.). Not only are we less likely to be exposed to harmful substances when we use our noses, but breathing through our nose ensures that the correct amount of oxygen makes its way into the bloodstream (Sinus & Nasal, 2020). Nasal breathing also helps with faster and more efficient recovery from exercise. When we breathe, the nose releases nitric oxide where the mouth does not. Without this release, the amount of oxygen our cells receive is limited, leading to feelings of increased stress and fatigue (Berman, 2019). Additionally, breathing with our nose actually helps facial muscles develop correctly and can even contribute to how straight our teeth are. Anthropologists, who study the skeletons of the Earth’s earliest humans, found that humans used to have larger facial structures, larger airways, and straighter teeth (Nestor, 2020). Today almost 90% of us have some sort of crookedness in our teeth (Why Changing the Way You Breathe Will Transform Your Body and Mind with James Nestor, 2020.). This can be attributed to how we have evolved: our skulls have changed, our airways have gotten smaller, and our breathing has gotten worse.

This aforementioned, incorrect breathing leads to chronic health issues. I spoke with Robin Levine, a physical therapist of 32 years working specifically with chronic pain patients, and she explained how improper breathing leads to all sorts of problems – starting with our core. Our core consists of the group of muscles that supports our movements. The core, she says, is a cylinder with our diaphragm sitting on top. Our diaphragm is the major muscle affecting respiration. A lot of us overwork our diaphragms, whether it be through mouth breathing or using/straining our necks to breathe. When we overwork the diaphragm, we can no longer achieve a strong, efficient, stabilizing core. Why is this a problem? Our core is what stabilizes our bodies – if we aren’t stable, then we will have to compensate with incorrect muscle movement, which leads to all sorts of imbalances and chronic pain.

Our breath is just as important as what we eat and how often we exercise; “it has the power to act as either a medicine or a poison depending on how we use it” (Nestor, 2020). This intense statement should not be taken lightly; if we simply focus on how we breathe, we could even reverse certain health conditions. So, be conscious of how you breathe throughout the day and make those small, yet immensely important changes accordingly. The motto we should all be living by consists of four essential pieces…eat healthy, move more, sleep well, and breathe better. Once we start to do these things, we can start to lead a healthier and happier life.

Reference List:

Berman, J. (n.d.). Perspective | Could nasal breathing improve athletic performance? Washington Post. Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/when-it-comes-to-breathing-during-exercise-youre-probably-doing-it-wrong/2019/01/23/b4d3c338-1e59-11e9-8b59-0a28f2191131_story.html

James Nestor: How breathing exercises can change your life. (2020, July 10). Bioneers. https://bioneers.org/james-nestor-breath-ze0z2007/

Levine, R. (2020, February 12). Personal Interview

Nestor, J. (2020). Breath: The new science of a lost art. Riverhead Books.

Seven important reasons why you must breathe through your nose. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://drsaigal.com/blog/seven-important-reasons-must-breathe-nose

Sinus & Nasal. (2020, November 5). The importance of proper nose breathing. Sinus & Nasal Specialists of Lousiana. http://www.sinusandnasalspecialists.com/the-importance-of-proper-nose-breathing/

Should i breathe through my mouth or through my nose? (2020, November 18). Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/breathe-mouth-nose/

Why changing the way you breathe will transform your body and mind with james nestor. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woyIhwomy1U

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