The human body is a remarkable and complex biological machine, finely tuned to perform a multitude of functions that are essential for life. Breathing is one of those automatic, unconscious, and involuntary functions that is at the core of life. It turns out that paying attention to your breath can produce benefits to your mind and body. Proper breathing during exercise is crucial for supplying your muscles with oxygen and removing carbon dioxide. The simple act of awareness of our breathing can enhance the intake of oxygen and improve relaxation. During a workout, I remind participants to check in with their breath. Is breathing smooth or labored? Or do you catch yourself holding your breath? When exercise intensity rises, there might be a natural tendency to hold the breath as the body exerts more effort. This reduced oxygen intake can negatively impact your stamina, endurance, and overall exercise performance.
But what about how your breathing? Nasal breathing and mouth breathing are two different ways that individuals can take in air. Both methods serve the primary purpose of supplying the body with oxygen, but they differ in terms of their functions and benefits.
The Benefits of Nasal Breathing
Inhaling through the nose brings air into a shell-shaped chamber within the nasal passageway. Air inhaled is warmed, filtered and moistened to protect the delicate lung tissues. The nasal passages produce nitric oxide, a gas with various health benefits. When air is inhaled through the nose, oxygen mixes with the nitric oxide and transports oxygen and nitric oxide into our lungs. Nitric oxide helps dilate blood vessels, improves oxygen uptake in the lungs and has antimicrobial properties. Nasal breathing also allows for slower deeper breaths leading to better oxygen absorption in the lungs and promotes diaphragmatic breathing. The diaphragm is the key muscle used in breathing and needs to be exercised just like any other muscle. Diaphragmatic breathing engages the diaphragm and leads to more efficient breathing as it helps reduce the use of accessory muscles in the neck and shoulders, which can contribute to neck and shoulder tension. Active diaphragmatic breathing is considered a more relaxed breathing pattern. Nasal breathing helps maintain optimal levels of carbon dioxide in the body, which plays a crucial role in regulating blood pH levels and facilitates the release of oxygen from hemoglobin. Finally, nasal breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and helps reduce stress.
Whether you are joining me for an advanced workout or a rejuvenating gentle stretch class, observe your breathing, be curious about the different breathing patterns, be patient and above all else have fun!