By: Mary Rachford, PT
“Breath” could be a word to define 2020. Many people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are dealing with shortness of breath. Sadly, some have passed away taking their last few breaths alone. Wearing masks for extended periods of time can make it difficult to breathe for some, myself included. It is hard to forget the words of George Floyd’s, “I can’t breathe” prior to his untimely death. Who is not “holding their breath” waiting for the political climate to change?
I have just finished reading the new book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor and have a new appreciation for this undervalued but most vital physiological process. As a physical therapist and yoga student, I have always been aware of the many health benefits of breathing techniques, but over the past few years I have come to realize there are so many different kinds and now love learning about what is truly supported by science.
Mr. Nestor delves deep into the history of breath work. He spent 10 years studying it and offering up his own body for scientific experimentation to find out more information. To say he is obsessed with this subject is an understatement, however, I do believe it is a healthy obsession.
Yes, you did read that correctly, Mouth Taping. I had never heard of this technique that has been around for decades. After reading about the benefits, I could not wait to try it. I have a deviated septum, which approximately 70% of us do, and that makes it harder for me to breathe out of one nostril. I had become a mouth breather at night which is not good for my health. As high as 80% of us sleep with our mouths open!! All we need is a proper reminder at night to keep the mouth closed. Do not be afraid to try it as no one has ever died in their sleep from mouth taping, however it’s not for everyone especially if you have clogged up sinus cavities.
Kinesiotape can be found around the house of many physical therapists so that was my tape of choice. I used a small piece (¼” x 1”) to lightly close my mouth before going to sleep. After getting past the laughs of my husband, Gary, when he walked in the room and asked me a question that I could not answer, I drifted off to sleep. As predicted by the author, I would not get through my first night with it on. It’s not that it was uncomfortable, because it wasn’t, I just don’t quite know why I took it off after two hours. Undeterred, I taped again the next night and made it through with no problems. I woke up early, had no need for water during the night and felt well rested.
Now four weeks in to my experiment I can honestly say I am hooked. I did try it last night without the tape for part of the early morning, as Mr. Nestor said the point of mouth taping is to train yourself to sleep with your mouth shut. I woke up with my nose clogged, tired and with a very dry mouth after just a few hours. Gary also said he could hear me breathing through my mouth. They say it takes 30 days to create a habit, but it varies from person to person depending on many factors. I am not worried and have no trouble continuing this practice to help me breathe better.
Here are some of the benefits of Mouth Taping:
- An increase in Nitric Oxide production. After age 45, this short-lived chemical which is hard to make declines. It is anti-viral, anti-bacterial, helps us relax, makes us happy and it may also improve your blood pressure.
- It can reduce our risk of getting cavities. The pH of our mouth drops when we mouth breath, increasing our risk of developing cavities. It may also improve the smell of our breath. I shared this with my dentist yesterday at my check-up and he agreed. He had heard of mouth taping and was going to try the taping that night to see if it would help his own breathing issues.
- Waking up less tired and thinking more clearly. This is my own personal experience with mouth taping. It may be due to 15-20% more oxygen getting to my cells throughout my body.
- Less need for water in the middle of the night. I went from 2-3 drinks a night to zero. A side benefit of this might be reduced trips to the bathroom at night.
- It may reduce your snoring. I may just have to tape Gary’s mouth shut in his sleep.
Another way to increase the release of nitric oxide if you cannot tolerate the mouth taping is humming. Mr. Nestor states that this powerhouse molecule widens capillaries, increases oxygenation, and relaxes the muscles. Who wouldn’t want more of this? His easy tips:
“Breath normally through the nose and hum, any song or sound”
“Practice for at least five minutes a day, more if possible”
I have just started this practice, so I do not have much data to report other than my kids are giving me weird looks, but the dog seems to enjoy it.
History of Breathing
I loved reading about the history of nasal breathing. I was especially intrigued by his story about American artist and researcher George Catlin who, in 1830, left the comforts of his Philadelphia home as an unhealthy man to spend the next six years traveling and living with various Indian tribes throughout the Great Plains. One thing he marveled at was, that although there were no dentists or doctors, most of the tribal people had straight teeth and rarely seemed to get sick or have other deformities. The tribes attributed this to breathing. Catlin called it the “great secret of life.”
Mr. Nestor writes, “The Native Americans explained to Catlin that breath inhaled through the mouth sapped the body of strength, deformed the face and caused stress and disease. On the other hand, breath inhaled through the nose kept the body strong, made the face beautiful, and prevented disease.”
Catlin went back to live with various Indian tribes at age 56, twenty years after he had first explored the West. He went on to live to be 76, which was double the average life expectancy for that time period.
Despite wanting to, I won’t go into all of the traveling that Mr. Nestor did over the years to research his book. One chapter that really stuck with me was his trip to Paris to view skulls in the underground caverns. Yes, there is an entire network of catacombs that hold the remains of more than six million people. Only a dedicated researcher would take an illegal tour through a creepy place like that to learn more about ancient nasal cavities and jaw development.
The Schroth Method
I was so excited when I got to the part of the book on Katharina Schroth. As a young German girl diagnosed with scoliosis she developed her own way to heal her misaligned spine. Inspired by a balloon, she developed a series of exercises using breathing techniques and stretches. The treatment approach has been practiced for decades in Germany and Spain and was the method I discovered 10 years ago researching for a friend whose daughter was newly diagnosed with severe scoliosis. Learning that there were no therapists trained in Illinois, I encouraged Bill Block, DPT, our newest hire at the time, to get trained in the method. Since then he has helped hundreds of scoliosis clients improve their posture, stop or limit curve progressions and diminish their functional limitations. To read more about this therapy, use this link to visit our website: https://www.napervillept.com/schroth-based-scoliosis-treatment/
More Information on Breath
I encourage you to watch the podcasts and video demonstrations on www.MrJamesNestor.com and read his book. He will give you many tips and methods to help improve your health, feel better and increase your life span. I reached out to this bestselling author and got an immediate reply,
“I was utterly floored when I came across this research, and it’s been thrilling to see other people benefit from healthy breathing practices as much as I have over the years.
Thank you, James, for this incredible piece of work that will change many lives, for the better, for years to come.