• Maggie Cowan-Hughes

Top 5 Myths About Breathing

These are probably the most common beliefs about breathing. They may be holding you back from looking into how making even really simple changes could improve your health and energy levels.

1. "Breathe through the nose or breathe through the mouth … it really makes no difference."

2. "More Oxygen - I need more oxygen so I take in more air. Open mouth = more oxygen intake.”

3. “If it’s the natural way, why don’t we do it?”

4. “I can’t anyway. My nose is blocked.”

5. “I’m sure I do usually breathe through my nose.”

Let’s take each one:

1. The Difference Between Mouth and Nose for Breathing

It is huge.

More energy, more protection from virus and bacteria, better quality sleep, fewer symptoms (allergies, rhinitis, asthma), less stress, restored libido, more calm, less breathlessness, better circulation, clearer concentration, increased VO2max … are a few of the massive improvements that we see when mouth breathing changes to nasal breathing.

For these challenging times, ponder on just two benefits:

improved immunity and more calm

2. “More Oxygen - I need more oxygen so I take in more air.“

It may feel right and may have been what you have been told: “Take in a big breath for more oxygen.” Especially - if you are a runner, cyclist, hill walker - you will be drawn to open your mouth to breathe so you can do so more easily. Do you know you limit your performance, encourage oxidative stress and injury, and are more prone to exercise-induced breathing problems with mouth breathing?

Nose breathing is possible for such activities. It will take time and training but there is no doubt that learning to breathe through your nose all of the time, even during physical activity, will be worth it for you.

Scientifically, the big-breaths-equal-more-oxygen theory does not add up. The LAW OF BOHR of 1904 (Nobel Prize winner Cristian Bohr father of Niels) proved that we need CO2 to metabolise oxygen. A big breath in means a big breath out. There goes your CO2 and there goes your ability to use your oxygen.

Breathe big with big action, yes! For anything else, ie nearly all of the time, breathing quietly is all that you need for your body to work just as it should. And do it through your nose. The nostrils limit the quantity of air inhaled in a way the mouth does not and this is good. The nose structure warms and purifies air to make it ready for the lungs and the interchange of gases, the diaphragm comes more into play, nitric oxide helps oxygen diffusion, to name but of the internal goings on.

3. “If it’s the natural way, why don’t we do it?”

Good question! Well, birds do it, bees do it…every animal does use the nose for breathing (except for a couple of birds and hot dogs). Human beings are animals. Your nose has evolved and is designed for the function of breathing. The mouth has other jobs and isn’t equipped for this function.

So, why is mouth breathing commonplace and not, generally, of concern? It is often easier to breathe through the mouth and it is habitual. Look around and see how prevalent it is. Studies show that even 50% of children are now mouth-breathers.

One possible cause could be a result of changes in the structure of the cranium which started to occur as a result of dietary shifts around 400 years ago. We also speak more and more so the mouth is quite simply more in use than ever before. We’re not exactly sure why it has happened, but, although it is not seen as a cause for concern, breathing through the mouth is not a good development.

The damaging effects of using the mouth for inhaling and exhaling air are far-reaching. For more oxygen uptake by the cells of your body, for greater immunity, you have to breathe through your nose. For correct craniofacial development and healthy childhood behaviour, nasal breathing is vital.

We are talking about everyday breathing here, not specific techniques as seen in, for example Tummo or Pranayama teachings. Buteyko training address the 25,000 or so breaths of our daily life.

Next question, can I do it?

4. “I can’t anyway. My nose is blocked.”

The more we use the nose for breathing, the easier it gets. Gentle Buteyko exercises will help to unblock the nose and to keep it unblocked. Be encouraged: good results are often seen immediately!

To begin with, most noses run gaily and may be itchy if they’ve been underused. Your nose is waking up! Very few students of Buteyko are not able to unblock the nose and to go on to make this most important change from mouth to nose breathing. It may take a little time and practice but, honestly, we see impressive results and, usually, in a very short time.

“Breath” a book by scientific journalist James Nestor, is the best read here. A martyr to the cause, James Nestor engaged in a Stanford Medical School study where he and a Swedish Buteyko teacher had their noses purposely and physically blocked for 10 days. The study aimed to show any changes in health as a result of breathing solely via the mouth, and how soon these changes would take place. Dramatically, snoring set in straight away, as did sleep apnoea; blood pressure went up and stress hormones increased. He says the emotional effects were the worst with horrible tiredness and depression. All the deleterious effects disappeared when they returned to breathing through their noses.

Now you are convinced (or perhaps you already knew), you may say:

5. I’m pretty certain I do breathe through my nose.

You may think that your lips are closed when you aren’t speaking or eating. Your mouth is closed right now, for sure!

However, … I have to tell you that it is very, very common for breath to be coming and going through the mouth without our realising. A big part of Buteyko training is helping you to develop an awareness of this happening and to help you to restore healthy breathing patterns. It is life-changing. I’ve seen the results over and over again.

Buteyko training is based on solid scientific facts. There is no magic and there are no risks. It takes practice, persistence and patience. Developing healthy breathing habits can only be good and it will make your life healthier and better.

“For nearly a year now I pretty much breathe only through the nose, and I incorporate the guidelines when I feel I am over-breathing. Life is wonderful and by breathing softly life is good!” Pablo, January 2021

Check out Dr DM Cottle of the American Rhinologic Society - 30 functions of the nose, 1954.

Check out Nitric Oxide - produced mainly in the nose.