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How Mouth-Breathing Starts

Posted by Lisa Bowen on Tuesday, September 4, 2012 Under: Nose Breathing
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Everything we do – including thinking and feeling – requires energy. Oxygen we breathe helps metabolize food into energy the body can use.  The more energy we need, the more we breathe.

Our noses are our only organ made for breathing. But sometimes, people get into a negative cycle where they’re moving faster than they should given their fitness level and they open their mouths, which can take in more air at a time, to keep up  That often causes them to start over-breathing, which ironically creates shortness of breath and a whole host of other respiratory conditions.

Modern Life Provides Fertile Ground for Mouth Breathing

We’re taking twice as many breaths per minute on average today than we did in the early 1900s, according to Artour Rakhimov, a breathing educator in Toronto. He reviewed medical studies over the last century  and reported in his book Normal Breathing: The Key To Vital Health that before World War II, the average reported “healthy” breathing rate per minute was 5-7 breaths as opposed to 10-14 today.

What happened? The late Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, a medical researcher who ran a breathing lab for 40+ years, found the comforts that even many Western poor people now take for granted –  soft beds, heated rooms, air-tight clothing, an abundance of food and a lifestyle that requires minimal physical exercise – turn out to increase the need for air.

Turning Up The Heat in the Baby’s Room Is Often The Start 

So how does mouth-breathing start, since all of us come into this world as obligate nose breathers?

Infants don’t consider breathing through their mouths, but when their nose is stuffed from a cold or a hot, unventilated room and they cry , they get air to the lungs through the mouth. That’s how mouth-breathing can begin and continue if caretakers don’t help their children to breathe through their nose again when they’re able.

We want our children to have the best. So if we can, we modern moms overdress our kids and heat the rooms they sleep in. When my best friend and her family came to visit me many years ago, I used to joke about how high she turned up the heat in my apartment.  She even attached a thermometer to her first son’s portable crib to make sure the temperature was high enough. The joke was on me later when I became just as concerned with my baby daughter’s warmth and comfort.

Physical, Emotional, Social Causes of Mouth-Breathing

Overall, people start mouth-breathing for several reasons, including:

·         It can start physically. At any age, when someone gets a cold or allergies and their nose stuffs up, if they breathe through their mouth long enough it can become a habit from that point forward.  In another category, retired athletes who could get away with mouth-breathing when they were exercising a lot without major health problems often suffer breathing-related disorders after they quit their sports.

·         It can start emotionally. Hyperventilation is a natural response to stress -- any stress -- from work, family, and money woes to relationship problems and trauma.

·         It can simply start because our modern lifestyle requires a lot of frantic mental activity without enough physical outlets. Many times each day most people do something very stimulating that increases their breathing even though they’re just sitting -- such as playing fast-paced video games, watching movie thrillers or high-stakes sporting events on TV, or just driving bumper-to-bumper in rush-hour traffic.

 Back to Health

When people with chronic respiratory conditions like asthma, allergies, anxiety, snoring and sleep apnea look for natural ways to control and reduce symptoms, they learn about the importance of nose-breathing and learning to breathe just enough to meet their metabolic needs, not more.

The Buteyko Breathing Method teaches two tracks at the same time: breathing exercises to build respiratory fitness, and lifestyle changes to support it. The lifestyle changes include sleeping on a hard surface, sleeping with light covers in a cool room, eating only when hungry and not too much, and exercising up to a couple hours a day according to one’s ability.  Basically,eliminating many of the modern comfort advances. 

Contemporary emphasis on cleanliness and protection against infection: good.  Emphasis on comfort: not always so good.

Related posts include:


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Lisa Bowen is not licensed as a healing-arts practitioner by the state of California.

Opinions, including blog posts, web content, breathing classes, coaching and other services from Breathing Retraining Center LLC are offered by teachers who are not licensed by the State of California as physicians or other healing arts practitioners, unless otherwise noted.  

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Breathing Retraining Center LLC’s educational products, courses and coaching are designed to improve breathing skills for people whose issues may be related to habits that have the potential to be improved, as a self-care/wellness activity. Breathing difficulty may be a warning sign of a life-threatening heart or lung condition, infection or other illness. Always check with your doctor about your own situation.

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Breathing classes, coaching and other services from Breathing Retraining Center LLC are offered by teachers who are not licensed by the State of California as physicians or other healing-arts practitioners unless so noted. We offer alternative non-medical/non-psychological techniques and our services are considered to be alternative or complementary to the healing arts that are licensed by the State of California.