We all know the term “mouth-breather”. It has a pretty negative connotation to it, doesn’t it? Well, it should. And here’s why:
In order for us to gain a full understanding to why nasal breathing is so important, we must take a journey into childhood facial development. Just bear with me.
Mouth breathing affects the shape of the face in two ways. Firstly, there is a tendency for the face to grow long and narrow. Secondly, the jaws do not fully develop and are set back from their ideal position, thus reducing airway size. If the jaws are not positioned forward enough on the face, they will encroach on the airways. See for yourself: close your mouth, jut out your chin and take a breath in and out through your nose, noting the way air travels down behind the jaws. Now do the same but pull your chin inward as far as you can. You will probably feel as if your throat is closed up as you try to breathe. This is exactly the effect poorly developed facial structure has on your airway size. It is no wonder that those with restricted airways tend to favor mouth breathing.
The second way facial structure is affected by the way we breathe during childhood is the position of the jaws. The way the jaws develop has a direct influence on the width of the upper airways. Our upper airways comprise the nose, nasal cavity, sinuses and the throat. High athletic performance requires large upper airways which will enable air to flow freely to and from the lungs. While effective breathing is crucial for high performance, having airways that function with little resistance is also very advantageous. For example, a marathon runner who has efficient breathing but airways the width of a narrow straw is not going to get too far.
The features of figure 2 above are identifiable in thousands of children and adults who have fallen between the cracks of our health-care system and were not encouraged to breathe through their noses. These same individuals often suffer from poor health, low energy and reduced concentration. In the words of dentist Dr. Josh Jefferson: “These children do not sleep well at night due to obstructed airways; this lack of sleep can adversely affect their growth and academic performance. Many of these children are misdiagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and hyperactivity.”
Fun fact: Why do some people snore so loudly? Well, it’s because their tongue falls back into their throat (not on the roof of their mouth) and their airway is already restricted as-is. No wonder they’re gasping for air with all that going on! We can’t expect those people to breathe well when they sleep.
Pretty crazy, right? Well, not all hope is lost if you relate to this. Try this out:
Nose Unblocking Exercise
- Take a small, silent breath in and a small, silent breath out through your nose.
- Pinch your nose with your fingers to hold your breath.
- Walk as many paces as possible with your breath held. Try to build up a large air storage without overdoing it.
- When you resume breathing, do so only through your nose. Try to calm your breathing immediately.
- After resuming your breathing, your first breath will probably be bigger than normal. Make sure that you calm your breathing as soon as possible by suppressing your second and third breaths.
- You should be able to recover normal breathing within two to three breaths. If your breathing is erratic or heavier than usual, you have held your breath for too long.
- Wait for a minute or two before repeating the breath hold.
- Repeat this exercise five or six times until the nose is decongested.
Generally, this exercise will unblock the nose, even if you have a head cold. However, as soon as the effects of the breath hold wear off, the nose will likely feel blocked again. By gradually increasing the number of steps you can take with your breath held, you will find the results continue to improve. When you are able to walk a total of 80 paces with the breath held, your nose will be free permanently. Eighty paces is actually a very achievable goal, and you can expect to progress by an additional 10 paces per week.
Additionally, here is a video that goes into further detail if you are interested in learning more!