Breathing for the most part is involuntary and something that is taken for granted and over looked from a bio-mechanical, biochemical, and psychological stand point. Coming in behind the heart beat, breathing is the second most frequent bodily function, with the average person taking 12-20 breaths per minute. Do the maths, and that’s between 17-30,000 breaths per day.
Optimal breathing delivers the right amount of oxygen to each cell and ensures the body maintains an ideal pH level, biochemical balance, and homeostasis. Symptoms or signs of dysfunctional breathing may include: coughing, dry mouth, fatigue, foggy head, dizziness, gastric problems, frequent urination, high blood pressure, headaches, visual problems, poor concentration, throat clearing, yawning, palpitations, joint stiffness, chest pain, postural imbalances, anxiety, and panic attacks.
pH is a measure of acidity and alkalinity and is represented on a scale from one (highly acid) to 14 (highly alkaline). The optimal pH level of our blood sits between 7.35-7.45. When pH levels of the blood fall out of this range, oxygen from red blood cells are not released properly and waste products are not removed from the cells efficiently.
Think of your bloodstream as the railway transport system responsible for delivering nutrients such as oxygen to the body and the removal system of waste products like carbon dioxide. Haemoglobin are the transport carriages in red blood cells and they will only load when the pH of the blood in the pulmonary alveoli of the lungs is 7.45.
The optimal rate of breathing would see 8-12 breaths per minute. If you over breathe or hyperventilate, you push out too much carbon dioxide from the lungs affecting your ability to effectively buffer the pH of the blood. If taken to the extreme, you can end up fainting from hyperventilation. Over breathing (15-25 breaths per minute) may not cause you to pass out, but over weeks, months, and years compounded, it may certainly compromise your health. In reaction to such breathing patterns, narrowing of the smooth muscles in the respiratory system can occur in order to limit the amount of CO2 lost. This can result in feelings of being tight in the chest and short of breath. This can also be present in other parts of the body including the digestive (stomach, intestines), circulatory (arteries, veins, capillaries), and the urinary (bladder, urethra) systems. Another common way the brain regulated CO2 levels is through breath holds commonly known as apnoea.
As mentioned in my blog on postural stress linked below, mouth breathing is not the preferable choice. Noses are for breathing. Lungs are extremely delicate organs. Not only has the nose evolved for the purpose of getting air into the lungs at the right volumes, it also plays an important role as a filtration system, protecting against toxins and microbes within the air we breathe.
- Fine hairs in the nasal passages filter and trap airborne particles and dust.
- Enzymes in the mucus lining the nasal passages kill viruses and bacteria
- The turbinates (ridges inside the nostril) and the sinuses control temperature and humidity.
- The adenoids (glands located in the roof of the mouth behind the soft palate, where the nose connects to the throat) produce white blood cells that help fight infections
- The tonsils also fight infection and are the final fine filters, ensuring the purest possible air enters the lungs.
If you predominantly breath through your mouth, you bypass the first four steps of nasal filtration making you more susceptible to colds, flus, allergies, asthma, and other upper-respiratory infections. Enlarged and frequently infected tonsils are often connected to chronic mouth breathing. Possibly even more significant than all of that, nasal breathing also allows the sinuses to product nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is an important body regulator, and the sinuses produce 60 percent of the body’s supply when you breath through your nose. Nitric oxides many important functions include:
- Assisting memory and behaviour by transmitting information between nerve cells in the brain
- Assisting the immune system in fighting bacteria and defending agains tumours
- Regulating blood pressure by dilating arteries
- Reducing inflammation
- Improving sleep quality
- Increasing sense recognition, such as smell
- Increasing endurance and strength
- Assisting in the movement of food through the digestive tract
- Assisting in sexual arousal by vasodilation, or engorgement, which helps maintain erections.
As also touched on in ‘postural stress’, during inhalation the abdomen should expand, during exhalation, the abdomen should contract. I call this belly breathing. If you breathe through your mouth, you primarily engage the muscles in your upper chest and neck. This pattern is what contributes to forward head posture and imbalances contributing to chronic pain and tension headaches. This continual stain causes pain receptors to fire; cortisol is released throughout the body, inflammation is triggered, the situation worsens and you’re in for a bad time.
Breathing through your mouth also means you use only around one third of your lungs available capacity. Well balanced breathing through your nose allows you to engage your diaphragm and ensure you utilise the entire volume of your lungs, while providing rhythmic pressure to the abdomen, assisting in digestion. Controlling your breathing in this way is one of the simplest and most effective ways to improving sleep, your immune system, skin, mood and overall mental health all in the absence of any pills or medications.
For some people, I would recommend this be done permanently for very different reasons, but try taping your mouth shut at night time with gentle paper tape. With your mouth taped shut, find a comfortable sleeping position and with your tongue resting on the roof of your mouth take a slow deep breath from your diaphragm (belly breathing) through your nose for four seconds. Slowly and gently exhale through your nose for four seconds and hold the exhaled breath for four seconds.
Repeat the process for ten repetitions and drift off into the night and get yourself some high quality restorative Z’s.
note: this may also be a beneficial exercise to do before meals, preparing the body for digestion.
Thank you for reading,
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