Like most people, I’ve never thought much about breathing. It’s just something I’ve taken for granted. While I’ve experienced Nadi Shodhana, alternate-nostril breathing, in a few yoga classes, I couldn’t wait for that portion of the class to be over. Recently, I read James Nestor’s best-selling book Breath, and I discovered a new respect for the lost art of breathing.
Apparently, over time, we’ve all become a bunch of mouth breathers, which is anything but ideal for our overall health and wellness. Unbeknownst to me, mouth breathing is responsible for snoring, sleep apnea, misaligned teeth, tooth and gum decay, and more. Nestor, who stumbled into a breathing class on the advice of his doctor, ended up taking a deep dive into the history and science of breathing.
When he decided to participate in a study in which he breathed only out of his mouth for two weeks (he plugged and taped his nostrils shut to ensure he didn’t default to breathing through his nose), he found his body paid the price. His snoring increased, he began to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, his oxygen levels dropped below 90 percent, his blood pressure spiked, his heart rate plummeted, and he basically felt more awful each day he continued the mouth-breathing experiment.
Such evidence got me thinking about my own breathing. In recent years, my partner has commented, okay, complained might be a more apt description, that I sometimes snore. While that might be an overstatement, he describes it as a soft exhalation of air through my mouth, like a bird whistling whoo.
As a result, he has taken to sometimes wearing ear plugs. I like to think he is wearing them because we live in Brooklyn, where the sirens and reversing Amazon trucks and their incessant beeping never stop. However, I couldn’t help but feel guilty that my deep and restful sleep was disturbing his. Until I read Breath, I didn’t know what I could do about it, seeing as I’m not really conscious when it occurs.
That’s when I learned about mouth taping, which I’ll admit, sounds somewhat disturbing. I was willing to give it a try though, especially when I learned of the health benefits of breathing through the nose. It is, after all, the way we were meant to breathe. The mouth is really just for emergencies, providing us with a better chance of survival.
While there are many ways people use to ensure their mouths stay closed, including chin straps and various taping methods, I chose to use a single strip of medical tape placed vertically over the middle of my mouth. It wasn’t exactly comfortable, but it also didn’t prevent me from drifting immediately off to sleep.
Two weeks later, I had retrained myself to breathe through my nose when I slept. More importantly, I’ve become more conscious of my breathing and the impact it has on my overall state of health. Breathing through the nose is healthier, because it filters the air, removing allergens and microbes, and helps protect our respiratory system. It’s a simple shift that can reap great rewards. I’ve also gained a new respect for breathing classes. It’s no surprise breathwork is being called the new yoga.
For more on breathwork, check out our series with Dr. Ingrid Yang, a yoga therapist, Reiki master, and physician.