How — and Why — to Breathe
Let’s start by acknowledging two simple facts:
- You’ve been breathing your whole life without any instruction at all, and
- You’re doing just fine.
So it’s logical to ask: “What could possibly be learned about breathing well that would significantly improve the quality of my life?” As it turns out, quite a lot.
Part I: How it all works
All of your organs produce a gaseous molecule – nitric oxide – that regulates how the cardiovascular system functions. Inside your body, this gas causes the muscle cells that surround the arteries to RELAX.
Part II: Inhaling
- Relaxed arteries are wider arteries.
- Wider arteries have more blood flow than narrow, tight arteries.
- More blood flow leads to lower blood pressure.
- Lower blood pressure reduces stress.
The cells of the MOUTH do not produce nitric oxide. The cells of the NOSE, however, produce this gas continuously. Breathing IN through your NOSE delivers this gas to your lungs, where it can quickly enter the blood stream. Nitric oxide then expands the airways and boosts oxygen delivery to every part of your body and brain. This leads to a measurable relaxation of blood vessels and muscle tissues, lowering blood pressure and reducing the physiological sensations related to stress.
Part III: Exhaling
You do not want to breathing OUT through your nose, since that would expel this gas AWAY from the lungs. It’s best to keep nitric oxide in your nose for the next in-breath. So the last part of breathing well is to breathe OUT through your MOUTH. Since the mouth does not produce nitrous oxide, there is no gas there to be wasted by exhaling. As a bonus, be sure to exhale fully. When you empty your lungs completely of carbon dioxide (what remains after oxygen is removed by the lungs), there’s more room in your lungs for fresh air.
Using this simple and specific way of breathing is remarkably effective in regulating heart rate and blood pressure, which in turns leads to a reduction in physiological stress. The emotion centers of the brain are deeply and immediately responsive both to any physical tension and to physical relaxation in the body. When your body relaxes, the emotional control regions of your brains also experience increased relaxation and reduced stress.
There we have it. Breathing in through the nose andout through the mouth gives us a simple and scientifically proven way to reduce physical and emotional stress. This is a tool we may all want to practice for the inevitable moments when we need it.