Updated: Nov 8
How you breathe matters.
Breathing is the very essence of life, an involuntary action that keeps us going.
But have you ever considered how the way you breathe can profoundly impact your health and well-being, especially during the journey of menopause?
The reason that I am so passionate about this is that 'learning to breathe,' yes, that was what I had to do, has helped my menopausal anxiety phenomenally.
The Impact of Proper Breathing
The rate and depth of our breaths have a remarkable influence on our nervous system. Slow, deliberate breathing sends reassuring signals to the parasympathetic nervous system, inviting relaxation. Conversely, rapid, shallow breathing signals the sympathetic nervous system, triggering the fight-or-flight response. In our fast-paced lives, we often forget the significance of our breath.
Breathing more slowly and intentionally can restore the body's natural equilibrium and enhance overall wellness.
Why do we breathe through our mouths?
While many of us habitually breathe through our mouths, it's essential to recognise why this isn't ideal.
Mouth breathing often results from poor dietary habits, stress, and a lack of exercise. It can also occur when nasal passages are congested due to issues like rhinitis, allergies, or a cold. This can mean that when we do breathe through our nose, we don't get enough oxygen and so have what can be called 'air hunger.'
Some people incorrectly believe that mouth breathing allows for more oxygen intake. However, this can lead to shallow, rapid breaths, which creates over-breathing and diminishes the body's ability to utilise oxygen effectively.
The Benefits Of Nose Breathing
1. Enhanced Oxygen Utilisation:
When we breathe in, we take in oxygen (O2).
This travels from the lungs into the bloodstream and is distributed throughout the body by the heart's pumping action.
For this oxygen to effectively move from the bloodstream to the body's tissues, it must be released from the blood.
Achieving this optimal oxygen transfer hinges on maintaining the ideal pH balance in our blood,
This may sound complex, bear with me - it is essentially a matter of CO2 regulation.
Here's the gist:
The pH level of our blood is closely tied to the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) present.
Mouth breathing = too little CO2 = which impairs our ability to release as much oxygen (O2) to our cells as they require for optimal functioning.
Nasal breathing = slower breathing = adequate CO2 = enabling the efficient release of oxygen to our cells.
Additionally, CO2 serves a secondary role by promoting blood vessel relaxation, facilitating smoother breathing, and improved blood flow.
Indicators of insufficient CO2 levels include frequent sighing and yawning, heightened muscle tension, dizziness, headaches, anxiety, and panic. This was me.
Nasal breathing naturally tends to be slower due to the narrower nasal passages; this allows air to reach the deeper regions of the lungs instead of remaining confined to the upper part.
The lower regions of the lungs are intricately connected the parasympathetic nervous system (and your vagus nerve), which is responsible for promoting rest and relaxation and counteracting the effects of stress.
In contrast, rapid breathing perpetuates a state of constant stress and pushes the body further towards heightened stress levels.
Slowing down your breathing process effectively kickstarts the relaxation response, making nasal breathing a valuable ally in managing anxiety.
3. Enhanced Oxygen Extraction:
The nasal cavity's longer contact time with air allows for increased oxygen extraction. When you breathe through your nose, the air has more time to interact with the nasal passages, optimising oxygen absorption.
This enhances oxygen delivery to vital organs and tissues, supporting overall health and vitality.
4. Nitric Oxide Production:
When we breathe through our nose, it generates Nitric Oxide (NO) in the nasal passages; this has two essential roles.
Firstly, it helps control inflammation and protects against airborne germs.
Secondly, it widens the blood vessels in the lungs, allowing better blood flow. This improved circulation ensures that oxygen is distributed more effectively throughout the entire lung, helping us extract more oxygen from each breath.
Importantly, breathing through the mouth doesn't release Nitric Oxide as effectively.
Your nasal passages moisturise and warm the air you inhale. When the air that comes in is closer to body temperature, it's easier for your lungs to use.
6. Toxic Filtration:
The hairs inside your nose (cilia) act as a natural filtration system, preventing allergens, dust, and pollen from entering the lungs. With mouth breathing, everything you inhale goes straight to your lungs.
Transitioning to Nose Breathing
Adopting nose breathing as a habit may require some time and practice. Here are a few steps to guide you to get started.
Always consult a medical professional before attempting these exercises, especially if you are pregnant, have cardiovascular issues, or any other medical conditions.
1. Observe Your Breathing Patterns: Begin by paying attention to your current breathing habits. Take a moment to notice how you breathe.
2. Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing: Start with slow, deep breaths from your diaphragm, inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Begin with 5-10 minutes and gradually extend the duration.
3. Feather Breathing Technique: Try the Feather Breathing exercise. Place your finger under your nose and imagine your finger as a feather and your nose as a fan. Breathe minimally and exhale slowly, ensuring the "feather" doesn't move in the wind. You can also practice this without using your finger. Make sure your breathing remains comfortable and relaxed; avoid overdoing it.
4. Consider Night-time Mouth Taping: The evidence for this is mainly anecdotal. Some individuals find benefit in mouth taping during sleep. Use tape designed specifically for this purpose, available on platforms like Amazon. Proceed with caution, and if it feels uncomfortable, discontinue use.
5. Explore Different Breathing Exercises: Experiment with various breathing exercises that can help improve your nasal breathing. Options include alternate nostril breathing, belly breathing, and breath of fire.
6. Consult a Breathing Practitioner: Seek guidance from a qualified breathing practitioner who can offer personalised advice and exercises.
7. Utilise Online Resources: Check out YouTube for instructional videos by experts like Patrick McKeown and James Nestor, who also have books on the subject.
Remember, the key is to approach these practices gradually and comfortably without forcing yourself into discomfort.
Switching from mouth to nasal breathing can be
highly beneficial for menopausal women. It helps us get more from each breath that we take and to support relaxation, which can lead to better sleep, gut health, and mental well-being. Not just in the rubbish menopause stage but also beyond.
I am eternally grateful to Patrick McKeown - and even if I 'slip' a bit, absolutely ALWAYS come back to these basics.
If you have any questions, as always, please schedule a call.