All my life I’ve had breathing problems. As a kid I had seasonal allergies and asthma. I underwent testing and found I was allergic to animal dander, pollens of all kinds, and numerous foods. I got shots in both arms that were supposed to make me immune to things that triggered my wheezing. I went to sleep listening to the hiss of a vaporizer creating steam that made it easier to breathe at night.
The doctors told my mother that I would likely outgrow the problems. I never did. But like all things in life, we learn to adapt. I got used to sneezing and wheezing, taking medications that were supposed to help, but didn’t. Breathing through my nose was always difficult because I was always congested. I simply got used to breathing through my mouth when I needed more air. I would often get sick in the winter and whatever virus was going around, when it got to me, it always settled in my lungs. I was treated numerous times for pneumonia.
In February and March of this year, I, once again, had breathing problems, along with a fever. This was before Covid-19 became well known. I had all the symptoms, but was never tested and assumed it was just my regular, life-long, problems with breathing.
Now, in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, with millions infected, we are well aware that the virus attacks the lungs as well as other parts of the body. While we are all concerned about this virus, many of us are also concerned about other breathing problems as well.
According to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA), 50 million people experience various types of allergies each year and allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tell us,
“More than 25 million Americans have asthma. This is 7.7 percent of adults and 8.4 percent of children.”
The Sleep Foundation says,
“Snoring is a common problem among all ages and both genders. It affects approximately 90 million American adults, 37 million on a regular basis. It is estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, with 80 percent of the cases of moderate or severe.”
Clearly, I’m not the only one with concerns about breathing.
When I saw a bright yellow book in the window of my local bookstore, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor, I was intrigued and bought it. He makes some startling assertions.
“No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how skinny or young or strong you are, none of it matters if you’re not breathing properly.”
It never occurred to me that there was a proper way to breathe. I just assumed breathing was natural. Everyone was born knowing how to do and we all did it the right way. Drawing on world-wide research, and both ancient practices and newly discovered scientific findings, Nestor says,
“There is nothing more essential to our health and well-being than breathing: take air in, let it out, repeat 25,000 times a day. Yet, as a species, humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, with grave consequences.”
One of the things I learned right away about “the wrong way to breathe” involves mouth breathing. Again, I had assumed that it didn’t matter whether I breathed through my mouth or my nose. I thought the real importance of breathing was to get air to the lungs and eventually into the blood stream to all the cells in our bodies. I quickly learned I was wrong.
I learned that there was a significant difference between “mouth breathing” and “nose breathing.” For most of my life I’ve breathed a lot through my mouth because my nose has generally been congested. I just thought that was normal. Not so.
Based on numerous studies that are detailed in the book, Nestor concludes flatly,
“The data reveal that mouth breathing is destroying our health.” He goes on to say, “Mouth breathing, it turns out, changes the physical body and transforms airways, all for the worse. Inhaling air through the mouth decreases pressure which causes the soft tissues in the back of the mouth to become loose and flex inward creating less overall space and making breathing more difficult.”
Here’s the key thing I learned from the studies Nestor reported and ones he has been involved with himself. Mouth breathing begets more mouth breathing. It also contributes to many of the problems I have experienced all my life. By contrast, he says, “inhaling from the nose has the opposite effect. It forces air against all those flabby tissues at the back of the throat, making the airways wider and breathing easier. After a while, these tissues and muscles get “toned” to stay in this opened and wide position. Nasal breathing begets more nasal breathing. Who knew we could exercise our breathing muscles?
And, the really good news is that with some practice we can learn to break the habit of mouth breathing, breathe more through our noses, as we were meant to do, and heal many of the breathing problems that causes so much suffering for so many. The even better news is that Mr. Nestor shows us how to do it.
On his website, he has a whole series of videos that shows us various breathing techniques that we can practice. He also offers expert advice that can help us sleep better, breathe better, and live better. I’m just getting started, but its clear already that Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art is going to help millions of people who are having problems with breathing.
If you find this article helpful, please let me know. If you’d like to read other articles on health and well-being, including my series of articles on “staying safe and healthy during the Covid-19 crisis,” visit my blog.
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