The Power of how you Breathe
I went to a breath workshop led by my yoga teacher last month, and she got me really curious about breathing and the impact on well-being. I came home and ordered some reading material to find out more, such was the impact of spending just an hour exploring different breathing techniques in class. As a long time yogi and meditator I thought I had a fairly good understanding of the topic, it turns out there was plenty to learn and do differently.
The most striking learning I took from the workshop was the importance of breathing through your nose. From the workshop and my reading I learned that the nose cleans air, heats it, and moistens it so that we can absorb it more easily. I read that the nose can trigger the release of hormones that lower blood pressure and ease digestion. It can regulate heart rate, affect the openness of blood vessels, and apparently even store memories. The nose is intimately connected to the genitals, it’s covered in erectile tissue, yes, your nose can get an erection, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that breathing patterns can assist in problems including erectile dysfunction or that the nose responds to menstrual cycles. Wow, really, our nose?
“Smell is life’s oldest sense…breathing is so much more than just getting air into our bodies. It’s the most intimate connection to our surroundings.” James Nestor
Add to this is the nose’s role as the organ through which we smell. It connects us so viscerally to our surroundings, our most primal sense resides here. Smells can be hugely evocative, they stay with us and take us places, they can trigger feelings of safety and of danger, they really matter. Ask anyone who lost their sense of smell after a covid infection, it is a big loss indeed.
The way we breath has a direct influence on our nervous system, with one side activating the sympathetic nervous system and energising us, and the other interacting with the parasympathetic nervous system to cool and calm us back down.
Nose breathing promotes health, while mouth breathing undermines it. As I read James Nestor’s book Breath I was taken aback by the difference, it’s not marginal, it's significant. We absorb 18% more oxygen when we nose breathe, and we also support our immune system by enabling the nose to remove impurities and invaders from air before they gets deep into our system.
“To breathe is to absorb ourselves in what surrounds us, to take in little bits of life, understand them, and give pieces of ourselves back out. Respiration is, at its core, reciprocation.” James Nestor
At the other side of all the revelations about nose breathing I read, it was this last quote from Nestor that stayed with me. In meditation, the ebb and flow of my breath, the taking in and the giving away of it can be moving and profound. Just as the skin is continually exchanging with the environment, the breath does so even more strongly. We are not separate, we are intricately connected with everything around us, and if we ever forget this, our breath is there to remind us.
I recommend finding out more about breathing and how to use it to be in the best physical and psychological health possible, after just a week practicing what I learned I can feel the differences in my body and my mind, and I’m just getting started…