The Best Benefit of Yoga No One Mentions

“Mouthbreather,” the ultimate dis on “Stranger Things.”

In a recent study on the National Institute of Health website entitled, “Could nasal nitric oxide help to mitigate the severity of COVID-19?” the authors explain the role of nose breathing in creating Nitric Oxide. You know all about this if you come to class, but for the uninitiated, here’s the intro to the study:

The nasal cavity and turbinates play important physiological functions by filtering, warming and humidifying inhaled air. Paranasal sinuses continually produce nitric oxide (NO), a reactive oxygen species that diffuses to the bronchi and lungs to produce bronchodilatory and vasodilatory effects. Studies indicate that NO may also help to reduce respiratory tract infection by inactivating viruses and inhibiting their replication in epithelial cells. In view of the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), clinical trials have been designed to examine the effects of inhaled nitric oxide in COVID-19 subjects. We discuss here additional lifestyle factors such as mouth breathing which may affect the antiviral response against SARS-CoV-2 by bypassing the filtering effect of the nose and by decreasing NO levels in the airways.   

So what’s a longtime mouth breather to do? You can’t just start breathing through your nose overnight.  No, but you can start yoga with an instructor who emphasizes pranayama (breathing exercises) and gives constant coaching on the in’s and out’s (sorry) of exactly how to breathe!

You take around 20,000 breaths per day; don’t you think it’s worth doing optimally?

In America’s search for the perfect yoga booty in under an hour, a few things had to go–top of the list were breathing exercises. It’s a practice that’s extremely subtle, frustrating for many, and difficult to teach. Besides, how are you supposed to nose breathe when you’re whipping through your vinyasa flow to get your cardio in?  There’s the other problem: classical yoga was never meant to be cardio in the first place. Sure, the gurus of yore had troops of adolescent boys who would perform almost circus-like routines to attract attention pre-Instagram, but that wasn’t for the “regular” folk coming to yoga for health and wellness.  

Big Yoga (gyms, Lifetime, CorePower, ) knows you’re busy and want a Total Body Workout in under an hour.  That’s great for them as they want to cram as many classes into a day as possible for their business model.  Poof!  There goes breathing exercises!  Besides, “I think my lungs are getting fat,” said no one…ever.

To do even a basic breathing practice takes at least an extra 10 minutes. Over time, you develop a kind of nose breathing momentum that gradually seeps into your posture practice so that you’re rarely, if ever mouth breathing — not even on exhalations. Stick with it, and you continue to breathe through your nose even after your leave class.

I know this progression as I was a mouth breather too, due to decades of allergies. Think about how much people spend on filtered water! How about some free filtered air? Once you start breathing the filtered, upscale variety of air, you never go back!

Still not convinced? Here’s an article outlining the negative effects of mouth breathing. Link here.

In children, mouth breathing is just as serious, possibly resulting in an ADD/ADHD misdiagnosis. Link here.

Why not set a basic #Covidgoal to become a nose breather if you’re not already? You’d be doing yourself a favor, as well as everyone else. The latest UMN study on indoor COVID transmission assumes that participants are all mouthbreathers– Whaaaat? #ew. At a minimum, your stress levels will decrease while practicing as nose breathing calms the heart and nervous system with all that Nitric Oxide –we could all use some more calm, right? Conversely, mouth breathers tend to be on edge, continually scanning for threats.

So yes, nose breathing can make you a calmer version of yourself, as well as improve your posture and spine. Shallow mouth breathers don’t create the micro-undulations of the vertebrae diaphragmatic nose breathers do, so their spines tend to calcify more easily, locking into place when sitting for long periods.

Diaphragmatic nose breathing keeps your joints and internal organs lubricated. It keeps stuff juicy and slippery, not sticky. Try it now: sit still on the edge of your chair, head balanced atop sitting bones / tailbone. Take a couple “normal” breaths, without thinking about it. How much and where does your body move? If the only part that moves is your shoulders, you may be a “clavicle breather.” It’s detrimental to your overall health and wellness, but completely curable!

Now, soften the belly (if you can) and imagine filling it with the breath. You should feel the nasal hair move as you inhale. Exhale as though you’re whispering “om,” (mouth shut, gap between upper and lower teeth) trying to make your exhalation twice as long as your inhale– you should feel the nasal hair move in the other direction. Feel how much and where your body moves, even though you’re technically sitting still.

YogaHotDish runs a couple all-breathing practices per month on ZOOM and includes breathing exercises in every ZOOM and in-person class. Your spine, nervous system, and heart will thank you– so will the people you live with!

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Shaila Cunningham

Shaila Cunningham

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