If you are a Stranger Things fan you’ll remember early in Season 1 the big insult with the kids (remember the show’s time frame is the early 80’s) was to call someone a mouth breather. Mike explains to Eleven when she doesn’t understand what a mouth breather is “you know… a dumb person. A knucklehead.” It turns out that mouth breathing has bigger consequences than just being a schoolyard insult.
Typically when a person gets excited or is running, they have a wide-open mouth. It serves a purpose. They need more oxygen. With a wide-open mouth, more air can come in quicker. However, it’s deceiving. It’s not the best way to enhance performance.
In the world of exercise science, nasal breathing, breathing with your mouth closed, is linked to better athletic performance for several reasons. First, the purpose of the nose is to support our respiratory system. (On the other hand, the mouth’s purpose, is to start the digestive process).
Designed as a filter, the nose and nasal passageways prevent foreign bodies from entering the lungs while also adding moisture and warmth to inhaled air so it can enter the lungs more smoothly.
There is more. For efficient exercise, studies show that nasal breathing allows more oxygen to get to active tissues which can enhance performance and recovery.
Long slow breathing, in and out of the nose, most importantly has an impact on the nervous system. This kind of breathing activates the part of the nervous system that helps to provide a feeling of calm, which is something really important if the body is in a state of high-intensity exercise or state of stress.
Also, slow nasal breathing activates the part of the nervous system that supports digestion, recovery and rest.
“The fact is, it’s incredibly difficult to learn or process anything in survival mode,” says Brian Mackenzie, author, athlete and founder of the Art of Breath, a program that teaches how to use breathing to optimize athletic performance. “We are now understanding some of the deeper layers to managing stress, which has direct impact on not only the general population, but is at the heart of how elite performers can optimize performance.”
In yoga, one of the first things you learn is ocean breath, also called ujjayi breath. It is a long smooth breath in through the nose, and a long slow exhale through the nose. With practice, you spend more time nose breathing and breathing slower, which is far better for your body.
What does that mean for you? If nasal breathing can enhance performance for an athlete, imagine what it might do for you?
The invitation…this week when you are practicing yoga, or walking, running, lifting weights, or having a heated conversation, can you be a nose breather? Experiment and see what happens.
And watch out for the Demogorgon. 😉