This is the conclusion of a 2-part series on how to use breathing to improve your health, energy, and life span. If you haven’t read my previous post, read it here and it will give you a better understanding of the steps I share in this post.
In part 1, I unpacked the two fundamental pillars of functional breathing.
First, breathing through your nose (versus mouth-breathing), enhances your lung capacity, filters out harmful pollutants, stimulates blood flow, and prevents snoring, many forms of sleep apnea, sinus issues, and other respiratory disorders.
And second, breathing less may seem counterintuitive but in light of the often misunderstood role of carbon dioxide as the primary catalyst in bringing oxygen to your cells, lighter breathing plays a huge part in lowering stress, reducing chronic illness, and lengthening life span.
Embracing these two fundamentals of functional breathing can be life-changing for many people. But where do you start?
What are some simple steps you could take today to begin experiencing the physical and psychological benefits of breathing the right way?
Here are three that have worked for me:
1. Tape your mouth shut before bedtime.
Before the pandemic, I would have hesitated to make this recommendation–it seemed too weird and unconventional. But today, if you Google “mouth taping,” you will find page after page of blog posts, articles, and videos extolling the benefits of using porous, skin-friendly tape to encourage nasal breathing while you sleep.
Even a recent issue of Costco Connection magazine mentions mouth taping!
If you wake up with a dry mouth, chances are you’re breathing too much from your mouth and would benefit from this simple practice.
And as I close in on two years of taping my mouth at night, here are some key points from my experience:
• You don’t have to tape your entire mouth; placing a small strip vertically in line with your septum (the cartilage in your nose that separates your nostrils) works fine.
• You can buy hypoallergenic tape, surgical tape, and athletic tape, which are porous and commonly used on human skin, at virtually any pharmacy or supermarket.
• Mouth taping not only prevents snoring, but it can also help increase deep and REM sleep, slow down cellular aging thanks to decreased oxidation from lower air volume, and reduce stress.
For the past five years, I have used a high-tech wearable device called the Oura ring to track my sleep. Taping my mouth shut before bed over time produced a measurable increase in both the quantity and quality of my slumber, heart rate variability (HRV), and other sleep-related markers.
2. Practice lowering your breathing pace for 10-20 minutes every day.
Like skeletal muscle mass, after age 40 our lung capacity starts to decline, which is one of the leading causes of declining health and vitality as we age.
Although it seems counterintuitive, breathing less facilitates the delivery of more oxygen to your lungs (as well as every other organ in your body), which increases their capacity.
Here’s a simple way to start your practice:
While sitting comfortably, breathe naturally and use a stopwatch to count the total number of breaths you take in one minute. (Chances are, it’s around 12-15 complete breaths). Next, deliberately slow it down: Inhale through your nose for 4-5 seconds and exhale for 6-7 seconds for a total of 10-12 seconds per completed breath, which will lower your breathing rate to 5 to 6 per minute. Practice this for 10-20 minutes per day. If you experience too much discomfort, try a 3-second inhale followed by a 4-second exhale. You should experience mild air hunger, but not too much that you feel like you need to catch your breath when the minute is up. If you practice consistently, you will gradually build your CO2 tolerance to be comfortable at progressively lower breathing cadence and volume.
3. Use a breathing app to continually practice and refine your breathing.
The recent explosion in mindfulness meditation has led to the creation of numerous breathing-oriented smartphone apps. Apps like Breathwrk, iBreathe, Headspace, and many others will take you through a variety of guided breathing exercises that are extremely helpful in improving your functional breathing. Go to your smartphone’s app store and you can easily download one and give it a try.
Remember, there’s no other autonomic function of our amazingly complex human bodies as fundamental to our health, vitality, and longevity as breathing. And mounting volumes of research are showing us that small, incremental changes in how we breathe can, over time, lead to massive improvements in the quality of our lives.
Finally, in addition to the practical steps mentioned above, I highly recommend reading one or both of the following books on functional breathing:
1. Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor
2. The Oxygen Advantage: The Simple, Scientifically Proven Breathing Techniques for a Healthier, Slimmer, Faster, and Fitter You by Patrick McKeown
What do you think about the concept of functional breathing?
Will you try any of these recommendations?
Do you think functional breathing could improve the quality of your life and help you present the best version of you?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.