Breathe like your health and longevity depends on it

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For several years, I have been using various breathing protocols to reduce mental/emotional stress, improve quality and quantity of sleep, relax my body, improve facial structure and optimize my overall health.

My functional dentist, Dr Mae Abdalla, gifted me the book by James Nestor called Breath: The New Science of a Lost ArtI found it to be a very interesting and easy read as Nestor was able to blend the science and history of breathing with personal experience as an investigative journalist.  The topic of breathing is extensively reviewed; from all the problems associated with mouth breathing, to the health benefits of slowing down or speeding up your breath.  He describes why modern humans are the only species (of 6500 other mammals) with chronically crooked teeth. We also snore and have poor sleep quality, both consequences associated with how we breathe.

The Mouthbreathing Experiment

Nestor describes how he, like most adults, had suffered from a host of respiratory problems in his life even though he exercised often, ate the right foods and slept eight hours per night.  Eventually he landed in a breathing class, had a unique experience and subsequently entered the rabbit hole of breath to understand the science of breathing and respiration.

Nestor and his experiment partner, Anders Olson (a breathing therapist and also a breathing aficionado), put themselves through a masochistic 20-day study at Stanford University to test the long-held belief that the pathway through which we breath-nose or mouth- does not make much of a difference.

The science is pretty clear that when we breathe from the mouth we are breathing unfiltered, unheated, raw air that saps us of moisture, irritates the lungs, loosens back tissues of the mouth (therefore more likely to snore), neurological issues, etc.  So we do know breathing through our mouths is not good.  What we don’t know is how long this takes to have all these problems arise.  Some speculate that it takes years.  Nestor convinced the chief rhinologist at Stanford to run this experiment on him and Olson to question the long-held belief.

During the first phase of the experiment, they spent the first ten days or 240 hours attempting to live everyday lives: eating, exercising and sleeping as usual while only breathing through their mouths and keeping their noses plugged (with silicone plugs taped shut).  For Anders Olson, who is a breath expert and therapist, is the equivalent of putting him on a Super Size Me diet for breathing.  The big difference is that most people don’t eat fast food every meal of the day but up to half of us breathe through our mouths only all day and night.  W

When the nasal cavity gets congested , airflow decreases and bacteria flourish can lead to infection.  The results of the first phase range from feeling awful, spiked blood pressure, snoring increased 4,820%, oxygen levels dropped to concerning levels, sinus headaches, unquenchable thirst, frequent urination at night, poor physical activity performance  and feeling constantly fatigued.

The second phase of the experiment involves everything in the first phase but switching the pathway and breathing only through their noses and practicing a number of breathing techniques throughout the day for another ten days.  The results were incredible.  Three nights of mouth taping for sleep reduced snoring from four hours to ten minutes! As the snoring disappeared the apnea events disappeared as well.  All other issues were reversed.

Why do we all ‘mouthbreathe’, snore and need braces?                                    – the ‘Dis-evolution’ of breathing

The term “Dis-evolution” was coined by Harvard biologist Daniel Lieberman.  He explains why humans are changing in the wrong direction based on the environment and lifestyle we choose.  This is why we breathe so poorly, have neck, back and foot pain.  Our sedentary lifestyle, poor posture  and shoe selection are part of these issues.

Thousands of years ago as our brains became larger and needed space and took it from our

Old skulls at the Morton Collection at the University of Pennsylvania compared to modern skulls:

  • 90% of us have small mouths, so small that teeth no longer fit and grow crooked
  • Sinuses are smaller and stunted
  • Chronic sinusitis, snoring, sleep apnea co
  • Old skulls had straight teeth,

All of this happened in the last 400 years with the industrialization of our food chain.  Modern human beings are often bottle-fed and weaned into soft highly processed foods which both stunt bone development of dental arches and sinus cavities leading to chronic nasal congestion and chronic nighttime choking known as sleep apnea later in life.  These lifestyle changes have been too rapid to give the structural anatomy time to adapt.

Mouthbreathing linked to poor posture

There is significant scientific data  linking mouthbreathing with forward head posture (video review) and postural changes.   There seems to be a relatively small window to change these habits in children at an early age.

“Forty percent of today’s population suffers from chronic nasal obstruction, and around half of us are habitual mouthbreathers, with females and children suffering the most.”

Undiagnosed and untreated obstructive sleep apnea syndrome can lead to abnormal physiology that can have serious implications including increased cardiovascular disease, stroke, metabolic disease, excessive daytime sleepiness, work-place errors, traffic accidents and death.( World J Otorhinolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2015 Sep; 1(1): 17–27.PMID: 29204536)

Restorative breath

“These slow and long techniques are open to everyone- old and young, sick and healthy, rich and poor.  They’ve been practiced in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and other religions for thousands of years but only recently we have learned how they can reduce blood pressure, boost athletic performance and reduce stress and balance the nervous system.”

Simply by exhaling slowly our physiology changes and what is so amazing is that we can measure it simply.  With many of our new-found personal measuring devices such as rings, watches and other monitors we can watch our heart rate lower, increase our heart rate variability (reduce our fight or flight response and increase our rest and digest response).   This only takes a few minutes to change.  If we do this consistently we can likely make significant and more lasting changes to our health.

Simple tips to stop mouthbreathing, improve your breathing and overall health:

 Sinuses are no different than other tissues in your body: use it or lose it. We were designed to primarily nasal breathe in order to clean, humidify and warm the air coming into our lungs.

Keep your mouth closed:

Sleep with a small piece of tape over your mouth.  The first few nights you will feel claustrophobic but if you stick with it, you (and your partner!) will notice the difference.  Adding nasal breathing strips may help as well.
I had read about his some time ago and gave it a short trial but now I am back at it.  In fact, my oldest daughter and I have started doing this every night for sleeping.
Nasal breathing alone can boost nitric oxide sixfold, which is one of the reasons we can absorb 18% more oxygen than by just breathing through our mouth.
This can also be used when walking or during light exercise (zone 2 and below) and can be a good quick way to know if you are training in a fat burning zone. I now nasal breathe only when I walk and hike with my twenty pound weighted vest and also when I jog.  Challenge yourself to breathe through your nose only or you can also try to pinch the nose as well until you have air hunger.  This can be part of hypoxic training similar to the benefits of high altitude training.   My kids and I use Myobraces and do  myobrace activites.  One of them is called ‘paces’ where they wear their myobrace, inhale then exhale, keep their mouth closed and pinch their nose closed and count how many steps they can complete before they need to take another breath.  This includes family-friendly competition.  This helps clear the nose and opens up the sinuses.  It’s amazing to see how quickly we can improve.
Humming: Nitric oxide is released when we hum.  This chemical widens capillaries and increases oxygenation in the nose and sinuses.  Try humming when you exhale for several minutes per day.

Exhale longer:

Exhaling is very relaxing for our nervous system.  Taking time in your day to extend your exhalations is an easy thing to do with just ten breaths.  Simple methods/techniques like box breathing can be incorporated in times of stress, while driving or getting ready to relax the body before bed.  Patrick McKeown’s book The Oxygen Advantage offers detailed programs and instruction on breathing.
Box breathing: all ratios are the same count, for example 4 seconds to breathe in, hold breath for 4 seconds, and then exhale for 4 seconds, hold breath for 4 seconds and repeat.
Many of the religious chants and prayers that have been used for thousands of years use a continuous breath of 5 seconds in (inhalation) and 5 seconds out (exhalation).  This technique significantly increases your heart rate variability (HRV).
When trying to fall asleep a 4 seconds in, 6 second hold and 8 second out is recommended to induce a very relaxed state.

Chew

The bones in the human face are unique as they don’t stop growing.   They continue to expand and remodel which can improve our ability to breathe at any age.  Chewing foods that are hard to chew  for 1-2 hours per day may help.  Any gum chewing can strengthen the jaw but harder types can   provide more resistance. Mastic gum which comes from the resin of the evergreen shrub Pistacia lentiscus can provide an intense jaw workout.  I have been using this gum for the last few months and it definitely gives your chewing muscles a workout.  When not chewing, our resting mouth position should be keeping lips together, teeth touching slightly and tongue on the roof mouth.
Myofunctional Orthotics
Seeing a dental professional that can provide you a custom oral device to help you with tooth, jaw, tongue position to assist with respiration. There are various types depending on your needs;

Breathe more, on occasion.

Many people find therapeutic and healthful results from techniques like Tummo (Tibetan word for inner fire, practiced by Buddhist monks for over 2,000 years), vigorous pranayamas or ‘the Ice Man’ Wim Hof‘s method (he repopularized ‘fire breathing’ combined with cold therapy); which all consist of breathing heavily for short intense time.  You are stressing the body on purpose so that it can function better during the other 23.5 hours of the day.

Breath holds

Similar to slowing down breath or exhaling longer, holding the breath for extending periods may benefit states of panic and anxiety.  Increasing carbon dioxide using these techniques seem to be the link in the benefits involved.  This is linked to areas of the brain and fear-based conditions.  You can practice breath holds while walking for a set distance for example between light standards.  These are also used in the sport of free diving.  The benefits of carbon dioxide are beginning to be better understood.
Buteyko and decongesting nose: exhale soft breath, close mouth, pinch both nostrils and go for walk.  Once mild air hunger is achieved, take a very slow and controlled breath through the nose for 30 seconds and repeat 6 times.  This technique works well as it causes a local release of nitric oxide.  This is the paces that the kids will do by counting their steps.
Bottom line:
Most of the time breathe only through the nose, less often and slowly.  On occasion and for short periods, chew harder foods or gum, hold the breath and breathe intensely.
Resources:

Mouth breathing and children

Nasal breathing and running

Five Tibetan Rites, exercise Nestor used to increase lung capacity

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