Often when you think of supporting your immune system you often think of eating well, taking supplements, getting a good night’s sleep. But how many of us realise that the way that we breathe, every single day is also having an impact on our immune systems?
In this interview with Tracey Howes she describes how the immune system can be affected by the way that we breathe:
How does nasal breathing help your immune system?
In summary nasal breathing:
- Helps to filter the air you are breathing in
- Warms the air, cold viruses prefer the colder environment. If you breathe through your mouth the air entering your lungs will naturally be colder making you more susceptible to infection.
- Nitric oxide is produced only when you breathe through your nose. Nitric Oxide helps to dilate your blood vessel so you absorb 20% more oxygen.
- More oxygen provides your body with a better environment to work in.
- When you breathe in a longer, slower way with a longer our breath this activates the part of your nervous system that helps your immune system to work well (known as the parasympathetic nervous system)
- Learning how to breathe in a better way takes from 90 seconds a day.
What Is Discussed In This Video?
Tracey Howes is a functional breathwork instructor (an Oxygen Advantage Instructor) and freediver based on the south coast of England.
Tracey firstly explained what a Functional Breathwork Instructor helps:
Being a functional breathwork instructor essentially means working with blood chemistry as well as movement of the body. We look at the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the blood and then we look at how the body moves when we breathe. From the upper airway muscles right down to the diaphragm and the expansion around the ribs and the body.
Educating people into healthy breathing techniques or patterns that will impact their health in a positive way.
Why is nasal breathing so important?
Nasal breathing is essential. The mouth really is for speaking, eating, drinking and for short spurts of high intensity exercise. The rest of the time 24/7 we should be breathing through our nose. Although we often default to the mouth because it feels like an easier option we actually get 20% better ventilation when we breathe through our nose.
But crucially if we look at the science behind it, we actually have a molecule that is only produced in the sinus cavity, not in the mouth and this molecule is called nitric oxide. and when we inhale nitric oxide actually enables the blood vessels to open and ensures more oxygen rich blood to the lungs. So it acts as a vasodilator. This does not happen in the mouth.
Often problems start because people over breathe, mouth breathing, hyperventilation and at night snoring. All of these are variations of dysfunctional breathing. When breathing through the mouth what ends up happening is we ingest impure air full of bacteria, dust and more. The nose has an antibacterial facility so it purifies the air and warms it before it enters the lungs. None of that happens if you breathe through your mouth
If you employ nasal breathing 24 hours a day over mouth breathing, you are actually able to improve your immunity. If you did get some kind of infection because the nose is being used in the right way, the recovery after illness tends to be shorter and also the body is more primed to fight infection enabling our body to fight infection because we’re using the body the way it was supposed to be used.
Strengthening the correct respiratory muscles which includes your upper airway tract, your upper chest, your intercostal (between the ribs) muscles around the thorax, also your back. It’s a whole system that engages. When you’re using those along with diaphragmatic activation with a soft, light, slow deep style of breathing it is essentially what correct breathing is. Not over breathing, not hyperventilating, not yawning and sighing during the day or snoring at night, which are all signs of inefficient breathing.
It may sound really simplistic but with practice of specific exercises we are able to retrain the body to breathe efficiently and that will improve immunity in the long run.
It is important to note that a cold is called a cold because those viruses thrive in a cold environment. So if you breathe through the mouth, you’re getting colder air into your lungs, So by breathing through your nose, you’re pre-warming it before it enters the lungs.
Other Ways Breathing Affects Your Immune System
When we take a a breath in, essentially that’s like a stressor to the body. So the inhale is the stressor and the exhale is the relaxer (immune strengthening). So getting your body to breathe slower and to exhale longer almost as a default should become second nature. That will help improve your breathing rate.
It will also mean that you’re not going to over breathe. So by breathing less but breathing deep into the base of the lungs using the diaphragm, you are actually taking in fuller breaths but fewer. And the little alveoli sacs in the lungs (they look like little anemones) where the oxygen exchange happens will activate because the lungs have been used in the way they’re supposed to.
So many of us breathe upper chest only and that is where the problems start. Tension in the upper chest, neck, shoulders, back, even postural issues, spinal stabilisation and chronic pelvic floor pain is all in caused by dysfunctional breathing. (as a side note if you have chronic pain in these areas it could be worth considering the courses Tracey offers maybe it could be the missing link to long term relief)
Encouraging children as well to breathe strictly through the nose is essential because that helps with their development, spatial awareness focus and concentration as well.
I breathe through my mouth because it is blocked so how do I end this cycle?
You can have congestion in the nose for a number of reasons. One could be for example, structural issues in the skull deviated septum, perhaps you’ve had multiple surgeries and that really can affect the breathing patterns as well as I would say unnecessary dental work because there’s a lot of there’s a lot of cosmetic dentistry now where teeth are actually removed for a more beautiful smile. But sometimes if the teeth that are not supposed to be removed are removed, that can also impact on the airway tract, which impacts sleep. Congestion can also be related to allergies and intolerances/sensitivities.
The easiest way to actually try to clear the nose is through breath hold, which sounds so counterintuitive.
We have included a link to a youtube video and it’s for a nose unblocking exercise. With regular practice as well as employing nasal breathing and practicing functional breathing exercises you can literally eliminate congestion in the nose. If you are taking medication for congestion keep taking it alongside doing this exercise.
How much ‘breathing practise’ will I need to do for changes to occur?
The answer to this can be a surprise including the simplicity of what these exercises are. The shortest exercise could be 90 seconds. The starting point comes from being self-aware and realising that you are breathing through your mouth. The exercises taught are very specific to encourage slowing down the breath, diaphragmatic activation and with practice a few minutes a day can make a huge difference.
Integration seems to be a real issue for us with our busy lives. So Tracey advises doing the exercises whilst making e a cup of tea waiting for the kettle to boil, when you’re walking the dog, when you are driving, when you are about to go to sleep at night, you can actually just meld it into your lifestyle and so eventually they become habits which is then the body starting to perform the way it should do without us actively having to think about it.
So if this information has meant that you are curious to find out more about Tracey Howes and her course options you can find out more from any of the means below
Taster sessions which are 60 minutes on zoom once a month.
3 week programme working in small groups.
She also does corporate work, wellness retreats, health and wellbeing festivals and works with other healthcare practitioners.