I am always striving to learn, to experiment, to try new things. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t, but you always learn something.
Last Spring I decided to try nasal breathing in my running (breathing in and out through my nose). As a Yoga teacher, I know the power of breath. Ancient Yogis thought that we only have so many breaths in our lifetime — slowing down our breath so that we took fewer breaths per minute was partially an attempt to live longer.
Paying attention to our breath gives us clues to how we’re feeling. How often do you hold your breath as you go about your daily lives? You might be surprised. If you’re scared or excited, your breath will speed up — it helps to invoke the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), our fight or flight response.
That worked great when we were living in caves and suddenly encountered a saber tooth tiger. Once we got away from the tiger, though, we would calm down and eventually shift back into our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), our rest and digest system.
We’re not as evolved as we like to think we are. The problem today is that we are often being pushed into our SNS by modern day stressors — almost constatnly — but we’re not facing a real tiger and we’re going from one stress to the next and not spending enough time in our PNS.
Why breath through your nose?
One of the main reasons I decided to give nasal breathing such a long trial (almost 6 months!) was the fact that it is supposed to help you engage your PNS, and thus supposedly get into the flow state immediately.
Nasal breathing can (supposedly) help you increase the amount of oxygen to get to you hard working muscles, and perhaps boost athletic performance. This post from the Washington post (read it here) says:
It can allow for more oxygen to get to active tissues. That is because breathing through the nose releases nitric oxide, which is necessary to increase carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood, which, in turn, is what releases oxygen. Mouth breathing does not effectively release nitric oxide, which means the cells are not getting as much oxygen as through nasal breathing, which could lead to fatigue and stress.
Who doesn’t want to boost their performance? And hey, it’s free! Nasal breathing may actually help boost your immune system, too — who doesn’t want that right now? Check out this post here for more information.
Our nasal passages are able to filter bacteria and viruses in the air. We have little hair follicles in our nose (in fact, we have as many hair follicles inside our nose as we do on our head, according to Mackenzie) that are able to filter the air as you inhale, which can block dust and bacteria from reaching your lungs. Our mouths, on the other hand, don’t have the same knack for filtering out particles.
It all sounds good, doesn’t it?
So what went wrong?
I knew going into this experiment that it could take time. Up to three months, in fact, to switch over. I knew that it would mean slower running, but with no races in sight, no big deal.
At first I couldn’t seem to maintain nasal breathing. Which mostly meant I was running too fast. You really do have to slow way down. Then I decided to go back to run/walk intervals, and that helped a lot. I was beginning to see a little progress . . . then Summer came along.
I found it extremely difficult to breathe through my nose in the heat and humidity of Summer. I wasn’t feeling in the flow, either. My runs didn’t leave me feeling good. So I finally stopped nasal breathing while running.
I still believe that mastering nasal breathing could be helpful. Even though it’s cooler now, and should be easier, I’m not sure I want to go back and try. On the other hand, it still might be good to work on it just in daily life — I believe with everything going on right now, it may be helpful.
Trying new things is never a bad thing. That’s how we grow and learn. It’s a form of self study. But sometimes you need to know when to fold up. — Chocolaterunsjudy
What do you do to keep your immune system strong?
Have you ever even heard of nasal breathing before?
What things have you tried and had to let go?
This week I am also joining up with the new Runners’ Roundup linkup.