Winter is coming, having a cold is not inevitable – here’s how the Alexander Technique can help…
This post is inspired by a conversation I had recently with my friend Louise who is about to go on a long-haul flight to America for work. She mentioned something about not having had a cold yet this winter and hoping she didn’t catch one on the flight or at the Conference she’s going to.
7 Reasons to consider the benefits and the opportunity to cultivate the habit of nasal-breathing…
1. It looks better and helps shape your nose and mouth
Think about someone you know whose nose may be blocked and often or always breathes through their mouth, perhaps you remember this yourself when you’ve had a cold? Your mouth may hang open, slack-jawed and perhaps you look and feel a bit ‘gaumless’.
Nose-breathers will have wider noses (internally, as well as externally). Although you may no initially be able to breathe in as much air through your nostrils as your mouth, over time the balance can change, as your nostrils and airways change shape with different use.
2. The amount of air is regulated – not too much, not too little
When we are sitting and reading, we don’t need great gulps of air, we don’t need to do anything, simply allowing air to move freely all by itself, we will be breathed. How much or how little air we take in is a remarkable response to the chemical properties in our lungs and the demand of our activity level, so when we are fairly restful we have little demand for air.
The good news is, we don’t need to ‘do’ this regulating, its already done for us. Using the Alexander Technique, we can learn to leave ourselves alone and stop any tendencies to push or pull, suck or blow air in and out of our bodies. In healthy people, this marvellous process is automated, and our job is to stop interfering and let the bodies wisdom sort our the regulation of flow all by itself. This is best done through the nose.
3. Nose breathing regulates the air temperature.
On a cold day the air will be warmed up considerably from the tip of your nose to the bridge of your nose, making it less of a shock on your body, brain and lungs. On a hot day, air can be cooled quickly coming in through the nostrils. If you’ve ever been in a steam room or sauna, you may have noticed this. If not, its an experiment you might like to try when you go somewhere very hot or very cold.
4. Nose breathing helps regulates moisture content of air.
When you are in a dry atmosphere air coming into your lungs via your nostrils will be humidified and made easier and more comfortable for your body to receive and take in. You’ll lose less water this way too, your mouth won’t get so dry, you won’t dry out your vocal chords so quickly – vital for singers, actors and teachers.
Conversely in a wet or humid atmosphere, your nose will be able to easily dehumidify the air, making it healthier and easier on your lungs.
On cold days we sometimes Huff out air through our mouth to enjoy seeing the moisture droplets visible in the air. Then we know its cold and dry! So, by contrast, if we allow the air to move out and in through our nostrils we will keep the moisture regulated in our own system.
5. Helps us smell – both beautiful and potentially harmful things.
The shape of the inside of the nostrils helps to move the air in such a way I believe which stimulates the pituitary gland. Allowing air in through our nostrils helps us receive smells which are interpreted through the scent and pheromones into the brain, memory and affect our hormones. The pituitary gland is the size of a pea, held on a thin stalk from the base of your brain behind the bridge of your nose. The pituitary gland is the master gland and is a part of your endocrine system. Its main function is to secrete hormones into your bloodstream. These hormones can affect other organs and glands, especially your: thyroid and adrenal glands.
6. Helps to keep your nervous system calm
When we breathe through our mouth the air can come in a rush and this alerts the brain into thinking there is something wrong and starts off a sense of alarm, the fight or flight response. When we allow air to enter through our nostrils it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which sends messages of calm.
from Wikipedia: The parasympathetic system is responsible for stimulation of “rest-and-digest” or “feed and breed” activities that occur when the body is at rest, especially after eating, including sexual arousal, salivation, lacrimation (tears), urination, digestion and defecation. Its action is described as being complementary to that of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for stimulating activities associated with the fight-or-flight response.
If you feel nervous or anxious, the common wisdom seems to be to ‘take a deep breath’. Most people tend to suck or draw air in through their mouth in a deliberate and exaggerated manner which sadly has the opposite effect to what is required. A big deep deliberate in-breath by-passes the bodies checks and balances. It actually stimulates the fight-flight response leading to more unease and alarm.
Try this, next time you feel worried, close your mouth, and let air out through your nostrils. Really watch for the natural end of the out-breath to have its full length (don’t push or force this). Keeping your mouth closed, see if you can allow air to come back in all by itself. Keeping your mouth closed, watch this cycle happen a few times. If the level of alarm is already quite high and you are hyperventilating you might try blowing out gently through soft lips to the sound of Ahhhh, then close your lips and let the breath in through the nostrils. (Repeat a few times, and until you can restore nostril-breathing once more.)
7. It helps keep the air clean
– from bugs, bits and bacteria. The hairs inside the nostrils help to catch any particles and little bits in the air and filter the air to clean it before it goes into our bodies. The mucose membrane has anti-bacterial properties, so the air is cleaned of bacteria, and literally made healthier before it comes into our lungs. This is very useful for people with allergies, cultivating the tendency to nose-breathe should minimise the allergens entering your nose and lungs which could set off allergic responses. Nose-breathing also helps to purify the air leaving your body too, so decreases the amount of bacteria you may spread to those nearby if you have a cold too.
Nose-breathing is a way of being kind to yourself and those around you, especially during the colder months when we may spend more time indoors and whenever you are in shared spaces – public transport, cinemas, restaurants, class-rooms.
Thank you to my friend and colleague Patrick Gundry-White who is an Alexander Technique Teacher and Buteyko Method Teacher who lives and works in Whalley Bridge and works Manchester.
Patrick has kindly reminded me to Keep My Mouth Shut! 😉
Lucy Ascham is an Alexander Technique Teacher in Sheffield and Manchester who is slowly learning to notice, reduce and encourage the beneficial habit of nasal-breathing.