We all breathe - right? So what's the big deal with Nasal breathing and how could it possibly help in stress managment.
These were my thoughts exactly when I was consumed by an uncontrollable binge eating habit.
I would be fine for much of the time and then boom out of no-where I would feel high-jacked by an overwhelming urge to eat copious amounts of high energy (sweet) food.
I could never predict when the urge would strike and thought it was tied to the seasons - less in the summer. I thought it was how I had been brought up (my parent's fault). I thought it was a personality disorder. I thought I was broken and needed fixing.
I set about employing every conceivable diet, therapy and self-help book. Some of the strategies over the 40 year period worked for a while, but the behaviour always came back.
I am grateful for the pain and suffering I endured over those 40 years, because I see that I was feeling my own thinking about the problem.
I kept looking for solutions, to what I thought was an inbuilt fault around a childhood event, after which I first remember the binge eating behaviour starting.
What I know now is, I was feeling my own thinking about the problem, and any other life problem that was occuring moment to moment. It would feel uncomfortable and by reacting to the discomfort, I was innocently setting off the built in smoke alarm (amygdala). This functioned perfectly as it's meant to by putting the habit mechanism of binge eating to feel better, in place. A pattern that my brain had recognised when I was a child, innocently reinforcing it everytime I repeated the behaviour. The discomfort would go away temporarily when the behaviour was carried out.
While my adult journey and learning about reversing an habitual pattern recognised the role the stress response plays in habit formation, it wasn't until I experientially put nasal breathing into practice that I FELT the change and noticed the habit completely fall away!
So how does it work?
Nasal breathing is the way human's were designed to breathe. The mouth is simply a back-up.
Warms the air as it comes into the body, with narrowed passages that provide maximum surface area for this process.
Nasal passages filter the air from contaminants as it comes past all the tiny cilia lining the nose.
Nasal breathing engages the release of nitrous oxide in the sinus area which dilates the blood vessels and is said to improve pulmonary function
Nasal breathing bypasses the mouth and allows the air to go deeper into the lungs as opposed to mouth breaths that tend to come into the body high in the lungs, therefore not utilising the whole capacity available.
Nasal breathing turns on the parasympathetic nervous system which the body recognises as safe and calming follows - this is KEY.
People who suffer from snoring, sleep apnea, anxiety, dry mouth, numerous bathroom stops during the night, the need to drink during the night, loud breathing, may want to take notice of how they are breathing.
I realised that I was a mouth breather. I would wake up tired. I would often wake up with my mouth open and I was aware of the noise my breathing made.
I started taping my mouth shut at night with light medical tape - which sounds alarming, and wasnt! This trained my mind/body system to breathe through my nasal passages.
I noticed I slept better, and felt better on arising in the morning.
I then went on to consciously nasal breathe when I was driving or sitting at my desk and noticed that I felt really good. I didn't need food stops as I had habitually previously when driving.
My nasal breathing practice, involved light breathing, slow breathing and deep into the belly breathing. Blowing the lower tummy out on the inhale and pulling it in on the exhale, activates the diaphram which acts as a piston to draw air deeper and use more of the lung's capacity. This also engages the vagus nerve, turning the body's natural relaxation response on, with the associated feeling of calm. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah.
I further extended my nasal breathing journey, by practicing breathing only through my nose when I was out walking. This was more of a challenge initially as the in-built urge to take in more air, by default, through my mouth as I always had, was very strong.
Pushing past that urge and together with the big chunks of time during the day practicing nasal breathing, I increased the intensity of exercise (walking up hills) while nasal breathing and found it got easier and easier.
Several months on and I notice distinctly ANY time I am mouth breathing, mainly when I talk. It just feels so foreign and obvious.
The biggest change I notice, is how calm I constantly feel. Nothing much phases me as it used to. I notice that I now seem to have a space of distance from my thinking, when an uncomfortable event occurs in everyday life. Whereas , before I would have resorted to unhelpful habitual behaviour.
Now before you think this is just coincidence or a nice mind/body story I have made up, I encourage you to check out the following books and links to the solid research that backs up the power of nasal breathing, that set me on this incredible.
I also encourage you to notice how you breathe. Is it through the mouth mainly? Is is often shallow in the top of the chest so that your shoulders are rising and falling?
Don't take my experience and word for it - Check out your own research on the benefits of nasal breathing