The Nose Knows! Really! Nasal Breathing vs Mouth Breathing

The more I learn about breath – and breathing – the more I am in awe of our entire respiratory system! Every yoga teacher knows that there cannot be yoga without the breath. And there are virtually hundreds of permutations of breath...many pranayama practices from which to choose. Yet, one question that I am asked time and again is “Why is it so important to breath through your nose?” Most pranayama techniques are just that – in and out through the nose – although there are a few practices which require the mouth to be open on exhale and a couple where we breathe in and out through the mouth. But it is true, the majority of time we breathe through our noses.

So, I will take a deep breath (through the nose!) and begin.....

You know those tiny hairs in your nose? They are called cilia. Their job is to gather up dust and bacteria, and to move these invaders to the lining of the nose – which is gooey...and full of specialized cells which stick together and harden. Then we blow our noses (I hope) and again hopefully, use a neti pot to cleanse the inside of the nose. (Although I know of a couple of kids who use their fingers for this job! Do you know any?!) So, in addition to filtering, warming, humidifying the air, the nostrils and the sinuses operate together to affect the body in many astounding ways. If you – or anyone that you know – is a mouth breather, this article is going to change your (or their) life! And if you snore, or if anyone you know snores, you know what problems
this can bring! Read on... 

Obviously the nostrils are smaller openings than the mouth. So, it is easier, and quicker to mouth-breathe. Nostril breathing requires more work of the organs of respiration. It’s harder to breathe in/out through the nose rather than the mouth. And so, the organs respond by becoming stronger. We tend to breathe shallowly at the best of times, and to not enervate our respiratory system in a healthy way. Nostril breathing helps to fend off chronic diseases of the lungs and bronchi eg. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This is a disease of the elderly that need not happen. 

Oxygen is diffused into the blood stream during exhalation. When we mouth-breathe, the air that we have inspired (breathed in) tends to be expelled quickly, and Oxygen uptake is decreased. The longer the air stays in the lungs, the more circulating Oxygen we will end up with...somewhere around 20% more Oxygen uptake. This bodes extremely well for the entire body as every cell requires life-giving Oxygen. Now you are likely thinking, well, why not hold the breath in after an inhale, aren’t you? Yes, there are some pranayama techniques that require this….but please, this is taught only for specific conditions, and always by a yoga teacher that has training in this area. Better to e-x-t-e-n-d the exhale.

Now, this is fascinating! Tiny receptor cells are found on the inner lining of the nostrils. These cells are highly specialized, in that they serve to send messages to the hypothalamus (sometimes called the brain’s brain). The hypothalamus is a master gland that operates on many levels – keeps the heart rate even, helps to stabilize blood pressure, regulates body temperature, detects thirst and hunger and searches for smell. Strong smells may bring up memories which are stored in the brain. And some smells keep us from harm...and others lead us to it!

Tiny smell-receiving cells – called olfactory bulbs – are located within the lining of the nose. These cells are the direct end-points of fibers that connect directly to the brain....who knew that our brains were in our noses?! Older folks often lose their sense of smell (and taste – as the two go together). As a result, their quality of life is lessened. Perhaps this happens because they are mouth-breathers? Watch the older folks in your life to see if this is so.

During mouth-breathing, air bypasses the nose and sinuses, and goes directly to the bronchi and lungs. Did you know that the sinuses are actually good for something other than getting plugged up and infected?! Yes! They are designed to add moisture to the air, and to warm it before it is taken into the lungs. As well – a super important chemical change occurs in the sinuses. Nitric oxide (not nitrous oxide – the laughing gas) is produced in the sinuses when air is taken in. Small amounts of nitric oxide act in the body as warriors against bacteria...and interestingly, nitric oxide serves to dilate the large blood vessels of the body – decreasing blood pressure, slowing heart rate, calming. In other words, nostril breathing is a powerful antidote to stress!

No wonder we feel GREAT after 3 deep breaths in and out through the
nose! The Nose Knows!