Babies naturally breathe through the nose on both inhales and exhales. As adults, we unconsciously breathe through the nose most of the time. Yet when I am teaching my yoga classes, I see a lot of people breathing through their mouth. And I invite my students to ‘breathe through the nose and not through the mouth’. Now why is that?
Breathe through the nose to control the breath
If you were to describe situations when you naturally breathe through the mouth, there are chances these situations will be ones of stress (you’re about to ask for a raise) or of pushing your body beyond its limits (running as fast as you can to catch your bus). In such cases, we either open our mouth to get more air in quickly or to release our air all at once and relax.
During our yoga practice, only slow, deep and smooth breath can calm the nervous system. And nasal breathing allows much better control over the breath. We can adjust its length, rhythm, smoothness and softness.
Take a moment to try it. Open your mouth and try to inhale and exhale slowly through your mouth only. See with your next round of breath if you can make it even slower and smoother. Observe the effects on your mouth, on your throat, on your chest and on your breath. Now close your mouth and repeat the same exercice. Breathe through your nose only this time. Now, do you feel any difference?
Breathe through the nose to bring better air into the lungs
The nose is anatomically made for breathing and the mouth for eating. Indeed, the nasal passages can filter the air, moisten it and warm it before it reaches the lungs.
The little hair (the cilia) and mucus inside the nose filter out particles of dust, pollen, polluants, viruses and bacteria from the air we breathe. And there is nowhere on earth where we don’t need this function.
In addition to the mucus, the thin layer of moisture in the nose is picked up by the passing air. The air is moistened and is then better received by the tissues of the bronchial passages and lungs.
And finally, from the nostrils to the throat, the air has more time to warm up and reach the lungs at body temperature.
So when we breathe through the nose, we choose to give our bodies the best quality of air we can.
Breathe through the nose to balance the energy
And more importantly, from a yogic perspective, through nasal breathing, we access our more subtle energy channels (nadis in sanskrit) and bring them into balance.
The right nostril connects to the Pingala nadi – our sun energy, masculine energy, the one that governs our physical body, our rational and intellectual side. The left nostril connects to the Ida nadi – our moon energy, feminine energy, the one that governs the mind, our creative and intuitive side.
When we breathe through the nose, we stimulate both nostrils and therefore both nadis. We are then able to balance our energies so that we become balanced, at peace.
So next time you practice yoga, observe if there’s any breathing at the mouth. If there is, is it indicating that you are going beyond your limit? Then go back slightly to a point of comfort and ease. Is it a breathing habit you hadn’t noticed before? Then you have already done a great job at becoming aware of it. Now choose to breathe through your nose only and see how you feel!