What is so special about breathing through the nose anyway? Thankfully it's not a debate with divided opinion like Global Warming, but before addressing the nasal vs. mouth breathing discussion, let's take a brief moment to get back to the basics of why breathing is such a big deal in the first place and how doing it optimally can significantly increase your performance and quality of life.
Spoiler alert: life essentially begins with our first breath and ends with our last. If you are breathing you are living, and if you are breathing well you are living well. The rhythm of our lives is determined by the rhythm of our respiratory system. Every emotional state corresponds to a respiratory rhythm. A deep and rhythmic cadence corresponds to satisfaction, safety and serenity. A shallow and inconsistent cadence corresponds to anxiety, anger, fear (fight or flight syndrome). Under no means am I claiming deep and rhythmic breathing will eliminate any and all circumstances where a person experiences anxiety, anger, fear, etc. That is completely different and much more difficult conversation we must have, at a later date. Getting back to breathing...
Humans depend on three main sources of vital energy. Can you name them? Most people only need a couple seconds to answer this question. They are: food, water, and air. The follow-up question is often a bit more complicated, can you name them in order of importance for optimal performance? The easiest way to establish comparative value for these sources of vital energy should consider how long we can live without each. I'm sure the answer is obvious by now, right? There are multiple documented cases of people surviving months without solid food and weeks without water. But when it comes to to the vital energy we get from air, even with extensive and intense training, humans can survive only a few minutes without air. I remember taking healthy cooking classes in High School but no adult ever mentioned anything to me about how to breathe until I began studying the DeROSE Method in 2005, at the age of 23. Think about that, I lived 23 years of wild adventures with an extremely loving and supportive family, was fortunate to have studied at excellent educational institutions in the USA, yet I had to cross the Americas and learn three new languages (Spanish, Portuguese and Sanskrit) before accessing this information. Somebody must be a cruel trick on me. I wish that were the case...
Among the laundry list of reasons to breathe exclusively through the nose include: it encourages you to breathe slower, as the air enters the nasal cavity it humidifies, filters, regulates the air temperature, and smells the air it reaches the lungs. This process keeps pollutants and other harmful substances away from internal organ tissue, optimizes oxygen intake (for example, and this blew my mind, in order to optimally absorb oxygen the lung blood cells need the moisture provided by humidity from the nasal cavity), stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, among many other positive bodily functions.
To my surprise, there is also increasing research showing how mouth breathing leads to sub-optimal changes in facial structure.
Despite all the overwhelming evidence supporting breathing through the nose while at rest, I occasionally get resistance Ifrom people who insist nose breathing is too difficult and sub-optimal during physical exercise, such as running, so I was thrilled to hear about the research by John Douillard and his colleagues showing nose breathing is also greatly beneficial for athletes during physical exercise. Below are six of the biggest takeaways from their research published in the International Journal of Neuroscience comparing mouth breathing to nasal breathing during aerobic exercise on a stationary bicycle:
1. BREATH RATE: Breath rates were consistently lower during nasal breathing exercise. For example, in their case study the maximum exertion of 200 watts of resistance on the stationary bike, the rate of breath for the nose breathing technique was a mere 14 breaths per minute compared to the whopping 48 breaths per minute while mouth breathing.
2. PERCEIVED EXERTION: In both studies, perceived exertion was significantly lower with the nose breathing technique. To measure this, they assigned a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most stressful) on the stationary bike at maximum exertion (200 watts). During mouth breathing, the perceived exertion topped the scale at a 10. During nose breathing? It was a comfortable 4.
3. NERVOUS SYSTEM: Parasympathetic nervous system activation increased significantly during nose breathing as compared to mouth breathing. To make this determination, they measured the respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), or the variability of the heart rate in relation to respiration. The more variable the heart rhythm, the more relaxed the individual or the more active the parasympathetic tone. At the same time, the tone of the sympathetic nervous system – the system responsible for the “fight or flight” mechanism – was lowered with nose breathing as compared to mouth breathing. This suggests that the individual may have experienced a “zone state,” as both nervous systems were functioning symbiotically to induce calm and focus during exercise. This is what athletes describe when they state, “my best race was my easiest race experience.”
4. BRAIN WAVES: Though studies typically suggest that the brain becomes more incoherent during periods of stress and exertion, our studies show the opposite: brain wave measurements showed higher coherence using the nose breathing technique. This suggests that the entire brain pattern was more relaxed while engaged in nose breathing exercise compared to mouth breathing.
5. ALPHA PATTERNS: Alpha brain wave patterns – the brain waves associated with deep relaxation and meditative consciousness – were significantly higher during nose breathing in both studies. In the first case study, the brain produced an unprecedented 15 second alpha wave burst. I signaled when I thought I was in the zone, which ended up correlating with when the brain went into the alpha burst. Until these studies, alpha brain wave activity had not been documented during exercise at all! The first person to run a mile under 4 minutes, Roger Bannister, wrote in his book The First Four Minutes, “The world seemed to stand still, or did not exist. The only reality was the next 200 yards of track under my feet."
6. ENDURANCE: Endurance was significantly higher in both studies using the nose breathing technique as compared to mouth breathing.
The following texts are extracted from books by dear friends and authors I deeply respect: the DeROSE Method founder himself, Professor DeRose, and veteran DeROSE Method teacher Rosângela de Castro.
When you learn to control the rhythm of your breathe with the following technique you'll be able to manage and refine emotions, which will undoubtedly have a positive influence in your relationships, professional performance and in your quality of life. However, the DeROSE Method breathing exercises go further, becoming conscious of the fact that the vital energy composing our body is the same of the universe, showing us another dimension of ourselves and this great phenomena of life.
Breathing is the only unconscious vital act that we can access and immediately control. Through breathing we can dive into the depths of our unconscious and progressively make it conscious. Thus we open the inner book and read the most intimate records. As a result of this self-knowledge we hold the reins of transformation, guiding our evolution.
You can do these exercises in any comfortable position, preferably sitting. The breathing exercise should be pleasant, done without effort. The slightest sign of discomfort indicates exaggeration or excessive forcing in some of the phases of breathing. Be responsible and always attentive to the signs your body sends you.
Before beginning the breathing exercise, keep in mind that the practices that involve advanced rhythms or very long retentions, whether with the lungs full or empty, should be carried out exclusively under the supervision of a competent instructor, trained and supervised by a serious institution. They should not be taken as therapy, aiming at healing some problem, physical or of any other type.
The breath should have the following qualities:
- deep (diaphragmatic breathing);
- complete (utilizing full lung capacity -- lower middle and upper sections),
- conscious (be present),
- rhythmic (steady like the waves of the ocean),
- controlled (you control when you inhale/exhale and the pace),
- uniform (steady from start to finish of inhale/exhale),
- slow (yes, just slow down, for starters, try four seconds to inhale/exhale is a good start),
- silent (only you should hear the sounds of your breath), and
- nasal (inhale/exhale through the nose).
1. Start inhaling, first bringing the air to the lower section of the lungs, expanding the abdomen outward, then to the middle section, expanding the rib cage laterally, and lastly breathing into the upper section of the lungs, expanding the chest;
2. and then exhale, releasing the air first from the upper section of the lungs, then the middle section, and lastly the lower section, contracting the abdomen inward. This is the complete breath. Memorize this rule: when air enters, the abdomen expands outward; when air exits, the abdomen pulls in. Again: air in, abdomen out; air out, abdomen in.
I suggest trying for five minutes initially. Then, let us know how it goes and stay in touch by subscribing to our mailing list.