During the mid-nineteenth century as America’s westward expansion was just beginning, most Americans had little knowledge or understanding of the Plains Native American tribes, who, for centuries, had thrived as expert hunters and warriors, inspiring fear in the hearts of settlers.

But George Catlin had a different view.

Raised in eastern Pennsylvania, Catlin grew up exploring Native American artifacts and customs, eventually leaving his career as an attorney to explore the western plains where he spent six years living among numerous tribes.

Eventually, he published a series of books that covered his extensive travels, noting the variety of customs, diets, and traditions of these tribes. Among the most fascinating traits chronicled by Catlin that was common to every tribe were their formidable physical stature and vibrant health. Here’s how author James Nestor describes Catlin’s surprising finding:

Having never seen a dentist or doctor, these tribes had teeth that were perfectly straight–‘as regular as the keys of a piano,’ Catlin noted. Nobody seemed to get sick, and deformities and other chronic health problems appeared rare or nonexistent. The tribes attributed their vigorous health to a medicine, what Catlin called the greatest secret of life.

What was this mysterious secret?

Breathing. Specifically, inhaling and exhaling through the nose.

After years of living among these Native American cultures, Catlin noted the immense priority with which every one of these strong and healthy tribes approached this most basic function shared by virtually every mammal on earth. In his book, Breath, the New Science of a Lost Art, Nestor further explains:

Native Americans explained to Catlin that breath inhaled through the mouth sapped the body of strength, deformed their face, and caused stress and disease (while) breath inhaled through the nose kept the body strong, made the face beautiful, and prevented disease. ‘The air which enters the lungs (mouth breathing) is as different from that which enters the nostrils as distilled water is different from the water in an ordinary cistern or a frog pond,’ Catlin wrote.

In great detail, Catlin described how nasal breathing among the Plains Native Americans started at birth. After breastfeeding, for example, mothers would carefully close the mouths of infants, even standing over them at night to ensure their young mouths would remain closed while sleeping. As adults, Catlin recounted how tribal members would resist smiling with their teeth showing to keep even small amounts of air from entering the mouth.

Later in his life, Catlin explored the native peoples of South America, where they all shared the same vibrant health traits as their northern neighbors. And like them, they attributed it to nasal breathing.

Unfortunately, as the century drew to a close and the Native American culture died out, this vitalizing health tradition faded into anonymity as well. In recent years, however, the physiological benefits of nose-breathing have resurged, backed by fascinating medical research led by a variety of experts.

What does breathing have to do with building your personal brand? Consider the following:

Personal branding is the ability to consistently present the best version of yourself.

Presenting—and living—the best version of yourself every day requires optimal health, energy, and vitality. (Try performing at your best when you’re sick, tired, or lethargic!)

Notwithstanding the importance of diet, exercise, sleep, and every other component of wellness, there’s nothing more basic to sustaining life than breathing. For example, most of us can survive for long periods of time without food and water but try lasting a few minutes without breathing. We can’t—we’ll die.

The average person takes between 20 and 25 THOUSAND breaths every day, inhaling over 30 pounds of air (much more weight than what we eat) that transfers approximately 1.7 lbs of oxygen into our cells. There’s no other autonomic function of our amazing complex human body that is as fundamental to the quality of our lives. As James Nestor puts it, “Breathing is the missing pillar of health.”

Yet many of us do it incorrectly, robbing us of the ability to present our very best selves.

So how should we breathe in order to optimize our energy, fortify our immune system, and maximize every waking hour? That’s what I’m going to explore over the next several posts.

Question: Have you ever paid attention to how you breathe? If not, are you open to exploring why you may not be approaching it correctly? What would it mean to the quality of your life if you made some simple adjustments to your breathing?