Did you know there is a “shortcut” to the way one draws breath? However, when you breathe, especially inhale, through the mouth rather than the nose, it is doing you more harm than you might realise.
“The airways and lungs require 100 per cent humidity and warm air to be functional, which is enabled by the nose, the structure of which is rich in vessels that ensure this,” explains Dr Fabrizio Facchini, consultant in the pulmonology department at Medcare Hospital in Dubai.
On the other hand, breathing from the mouth sends dry air to the lungs and can lead to bronchospasm and a dry layer of mucus covering the airways.
The ‘right’ way to breathe
Indian yoga instructor Marcellene Azavedo, who trained at The Yoga Institute and now lives in Dubai, describes breath as “our only lifetime companion”, and is forever reminding her students that “the mouth is meant for eating and talking, while the nose, and only the nose is for breathing”.
Azavedo cites the example of babies and children, most of whom breathe through the belly and nose when deep in sleep. “This is because stress is non-existent to them,” she says, “while imbalances and stress can cause the breathing of adults to become erratic, which then leads to various diseases.”
An improved breathing state means more oxygen is reaching the lungs, hence increasing their capacity, which in turn makes you more active and energetic day to day.
“As an example, athletes have superior lung capacity,” notes Dr Olga Vartzioti, pulmonary specialist at King’s College Hospital London – Dubai. “They use breathing techniques to optimise oxygen intake, helping them perform at their peak.”
Stefany Alvarez, a hypopressive breathing instructor and fitness coach from Uruguay, says proper breathing techniques reap both physical and mental benefits. “It leads to an improvement in our cardiovascular system and also improves posture because the diaphragm is connected to the spine,” she explains. Breathing right can also help post-partum women regain the strength of their pelvic floor and abdominal core muscles, she says.
“But beyond these physical benefits, breathing is connected to our nervous system, so it plays a huge part in controlling anxiety,” adds Alvarez.
Indonesian-American yoga instructor Yvette Megchiani agrees. “For people who are active throughout the day, sometimes just listening to their breath can make them sleep, especially when they consciously regulate each inhale and exhale,” says Megchiani, who lives in Dubai. It’s why most meditation tracks also urge listeners to draw deeper breaths in a bid to calm down, switch off and even reach a euphoric, trancelike state.
As James Nester writes in his bestseller Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art: “The tens of billions of molecules we bring into our bodies with every breath … influence nearly every internal organ, telling them when to turn on and off. They affect heart rate, digestion, moods, attitudes, when we feel aroused and when we feel nauseated.
“No matter what we eat, how much we exercise, how resilient our genes are, how skinny or young or wise we are, none of it will matter unless we’re breathing correctly.
“The missing pillar in health is breath. It all starts there.”
The impact of climate change on respiration
Breathing right has also never been more important than it is in the current climate.
A September study in the European Respiratory Journal reported the climate crisis poses the greatest risks to people with respiratory illnesses, with high temperatures and changing weather patterns exacerbating lung health problems. Meanwhile, the United Nations said on Thursday that the amount of dust in the world's air worsened last year.
The respiratory system, along with the skin and eyes, are the direct contact points between humans and the surrounding environment, says Dr Facchini. “So when we breathe, we bring the external environment inside us,” he explains, adding that through this process, the germs from dusty and polluted weather are transmitted to humans.
“Climate change can increase the prevalence of allergens, hence extending allergy seasons with prolonged periods of stagnant air and increased air pollution especially in urban areas,” says Dr Vartzioti.
“Higher temperatures can increase the ground level of ozone and concentration of airborne particulate matter, all of which can worsen respiratory conditions and pose greater risks to individuals with pre-existing respiratory problems,” she adds.
High temperatures also mean people stay indoors for longer, to escape the blistering heat and dusty weather. However, this too can compromise the efficiency of human breathing and create other health problems, “especially if we expose our system to vape, cigarette or bakhour smoke”, says Dr Facchini.
To minimise the impact of indoor air pollution, adults, who usually draw between 12 and 20 breaths per minute, need to ensure proper ventilation, especially when cooking; regularly clean air conditioning ducts; and avoid smoking or vaping indoors.