A 2018 study by My Protein concluded that Americans spend more on their health and fitness than their college education. That’s over $100,000 in their lifetime. While our quest towards a healthier and happier lifestyle is essential, it probably doesn’t need to come with an enormous price tag. In reality, we already have all of the tools and resources to look, feel, and perform better, starting with our breath.
Breathing is the foundation for a healthy life. Here’s how breathing contributes to healthy living, the dangers of mouth breathing, and how to breathe properly.
An Essential Component of Life
Life begins and ends with a breath. While our bodies also need nourishment in food and water, we can survive days or weeks without these essentials, whereas we can only survive mere minutes without oxygen. The average adult takes more than 22,000 breaths each day. That amounts to about 10,000 liters of air. This process, called respiration, brings oxygen into our cells and releases carbon dioxide, maintaining our organ systems and keeping us alive.
Now, when we say breathing is the foundation of a healthy life, we’re not just talking about this process itself. We’re also talking about what conscious breathing can do for our mental, emotional, and physical health. Conscious breathing is the practice of oxygenating our body more mindfully and efficiently. This active control of our breath takes focus and allows us the opportunity to reflect and understand how breathing can affect our thoughts and wellbeing. Controlling breath is said by many holistic practitioners to be the best management tool for pain, fear, and stress. And, even better, it’s entirely free.
In many eastern nations, such as India, meditation, a practice involving focus and breathing techniques, is incorporated into one’s daily routine. “Meditation, a Yoga technique, not only helps you connect with your inner self, it also reduces anxiety, improves positive feelings, sleep and even your digestive health. It is also known to decrease blood pressure,” says Parmita Uniyal, a reporter with Hindustan Times.
Many westerners are beginning to adopt this mindful breathing practice into their daily lives, as traditional American culture—including extended work hours, limited sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise, and stress—causes burnout, mental exhaustion, anxiety disorders, and even premature death. This unhealthy lifestyle causes us to lose touch with who we are as individuals. Instead, we begin to define ourselves by our work lives alone. We can enlighten our minds and find a much more balanced, efficient, and meaningful life by returning our focus to breath and our inner selves and purpose.
The Dangers of Mouth Breathing
For many, mouth breathing is seen as a comical sign of a stuffy nose, congestion, allergies, etc. But mouth breathing is no laughing matter. And it is only acceptable when used as a way for the muscles and organs to receive oxygen faster during strenuous exercise. Nasal breathing is preferred to mouth breathing as the nose acts as a filter, keeping small, unwanted particles from reaching the lungs. It also humidifies and warms the air, preventing dryness in the lungs. Finally, the nose adds slight resistance, increasing oxygen intake as the lungs’ elasticity improves.
Consequently, mouth breathing in children leads to underdevelopment of the mouth and airway, crooked teeth, and more. In adults, it causes bad breath, gum disease, and more downstream effects, such as high blood pressure. Mouth breathing also quickly leads to hyperventilating, which can cause poor sleep and oxygenation.
Some possible causes of mouth breathing include the following:
- Enlarged adenoids or tonsils
- A deviated septum
- Nasal polyps
- Enlarged turbinates
- A misshapen nose
- An underdeveloped airway or jaw
Humankind is the only known species to spend a significant amount of time breathing through their mouths versus their nose. While we can do several things to help clear out nasal passages, mouth breathing also becomes a difficult habit to break. For some individuals, sleep apnea is the cause of their mouth breathing, as they start and stop and struggle to breathe during sleep. Stress and anxiety are the culprits for others, as they activate the sympathetic nervous system and lead to abnormal breathing patterns.
Whatever the cause, it is clear that mouth breathing is dangerous to our overall health and wellbeing.
How to Breathe Better
In a previous blog, we wrote about why breathing is key to wellness and provided some tips on breathing better, such as the following:
- Focus on nasal breathing, as it optimizes the air quality on its way to your lungs.
- Breath with your belly versus your shoulders, as it ensures the diaphragm is utilized properly.
- Focus on maintaining the proper posture of your head, neck, and back, as this opens up your chest and allows for full, ample breath.
- Practice stretching each day to relieve tightness, reduce stress, and improve circulation.
- Practice meditation or breathing exercises to focus on the breath and reap many emotional and mental benefits.
These tips are an excellent start on your path toward understanding breathing as the foundation for a healthy life. Start small with simple daily habits (such as mindful breathing or meditation), note how it affects your emotional and mental state, and continue to build on these positive routines. Over time, you’ll notice a significant improvement in every aspect of your life.
If you or someone you know struggles with breathing and airway conditions beyond the norm, consider discussing these concerns with your dentist. They are best positioned to screen for sleep apnea and other respiratory ailments.
For more information on breathing and airway health, check out our blog at thevivosinstitute.com.