The Nose Knows

By Jason Donaldson

Take a breath.

Did you breathe through your nose or your mouth?

The breath is a very powerful thing. It literally keeps us alive.

Using your breath correctly however, is not as simple as inhaling and exhaling. How you breathe can have a massive impact on your overall health, well-being and performance

The various body parts are designed for specific purposes. Yes, everything is related and there is some overlap between the parts, however each has their own special skill.

The nose has little hairs and complex sinuses which have evolved to BREATHE. It is PRIMARILY part of the respiratory system.

The mouth has a tongue, teeth and salivary glands, It is PRIMARILY part of the digestive system.

Although both structures and their functions are related, they both have a primary function that is made obvious by their structure.

Just because you can breathe through the mouth, doesn’t mean you should. Likewise, just because you can shove food up your nose and it may eventually reach your stomach, doesn’t mean you should.

When we use the nose for its intended purpose, an interesting thing happens; Nitrogen Oxide (NO) is released from the paranasal sinuses.

Nitrogen oxide is quite an amazing substance. It does a number of things when we breathe:

Sterilization – Nitrogen Oxide sterilizes the air we breath, which is very beneficial for those who work in an office environment or travel on planes frequently. These little hotbeds of colds and flu can be better survived through employing nasal breathing.

Bronchial Dilation – Nitrogen Oxide is a bronchial-dilator. It assists to open the airways. This is great for asthmatics or anyone with breathing difficulties. This also has performance implications for sport and exercise.

Ventilation Perfusion – Nitrogen Oxide assists in ventilation perfusion. Most of the time blood sits in the lower lobes of the lungs. Nitrogen Oxide helps bring the blood from the lower lobes to the upper lobes increasing oxygen uptake. In other words, it helps oxygen get from the lungs to the blood. Nasal breathing can improve this oxygen uptake by 5-15%.

Nasal breathing is more efficient breathing. Due to the size of the nostrils and nasal cavities in comparison to the mouth, the nose better controls how much oxygen we take in and importantly, how much carbon dioxide we breathe out.

Ever been told to take a big, deep breath; maybe when you’re angry, stressed, upset?

The problem with taking a BIG breath, particularly a big mouth breath, is that you will follow that up with a big exhale. When we breathe out too much air we blow off too much carbon dioxide.

We inhale Oxygen and exhale Carbon Dioxide. The Oxygen moves from our lungs, into our blood and into the tissues where it’s needed most. Carbon dioxide is like the exhaust, a waste gas created from our metabolism; essentially the breakdown of carbohydrates and fat. But Carbon Dioxide is far more than just a waste product. Carbon Dioxide plays an essential role in the utilization of Oxygen; how our body uses it.

When our blood is fully oxygenated, we have around 95-99% Oxygen Saturation (SpO2). You can’t get any more than that. It’s like filling a glass with water. Once it’s full, it’s full. BUT 99% Oxygen Saturation doesn’t mean the oxygen is in our tissues, like the brain and the muscles, where it’s needed. For it to get into our tissues, we need Carbon Dioxide.

Carbon Dioxide acts like a doorway between the blood and the tissues. If we breathe out too much Carbon Dioxide, the door remains shut and the Oxygen cant get from our blood to the tissues. But, when we retain some Carbon Dioxide, the door opens and oxygen flows freely into the tissues.

When you take big mouth breaths, when nervous or when exerting yourself, this can actually cause more problems. Sure it will Oxygenate your blood, but in blowing out all of your Carbon Dioxide, the Oxygen wont get where it’s needed. This can lead to things like fatigue and brain fog.

CONTROLLING your breath is far more beneficial. The easiest way to do this is to use your nose. That’s what it’s for.

Inhale gently through your nose, pause, exhale gently through your nose, pause. Repeat.

The breath really is an amazing thing. It is integral to life. You can last several weeks without food. Several days without water. But you can survive just minutes without breath.

Without the breath, we will die. But, it can be used poorly. Take advantage of the power of the breath, Nitrogen Oxide and Carbon Dioxide. Use your nose for its intended purpose. The nose knows.

Jason Donaldson

Jason Donaldson is a Human Performance Coach who opened the first CrossFit™ affiliate in Western Australia in 2007. Jason has been a team member since 2011 and plays an integral role in SH//FT. As Director of //Performance, Jason oversees all coaching and training programs along with the subscription management. Jason is a lifetime athlete having played many sports, including two decades of Australian Rules Football. He has completed many endurance events such as trail runs, OCRs, cross-country mountain bike races and off-road duathlons.


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