By Fariya Doctor, GCFP CM
It was The Feldenkrais Method® that helped me discover that there wasn’t just one way to breathe. However, I still struggled with understanding and identifying why I was having so much trouble with breathing. After studying the science of breath and becoming a Buteyko Instructor all the pieces came together.
By honoring the beauty of self awareness and self discovery in the Method, I look to the present theories of Breath sciences to help deepen my understanding and enhance my abilities to self regulate with breath. Breath is everything and a cornerstone to our health and well-being.
One of the biggest AHA moments was when I discovered the physical, emotional and physiological effects of breathing through my nose. However, this is not new information. Shut Your Mouth, Save your Life was written by George Catlin in 1870! James Nestor highlights Mr. Catlin’s travels and discoveries in his book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art.
Nestor writes, “ Like other parts of the body, the nasal cavities respond to whatever inputs it receives. When the nose is denied regular use, it will atrophy.”
That is not good news for our health, physically or mentally.
To start here are some symptoms of chronic mouth breathing:
- Often out of breath and fatigued
- Increased anxiety
- Prone to asthma and exercise induced asthma
- Dry mouth in the morning and prone to dental problems
- Getting sick easily
- Sinus issues, stuffy nose
- Frequent coughing or throat clearing
- Feeling of oxygen hunger (not getting enough air)
When one switches to nose breathing this is what will happen:
- Improved Oxygen supply
- Improved Lung Capacity and diaphragm movement
- Faster exercise recovery
- Improved oxygen uptake to muscles, brain,and heart
- Calmer mental state
- Increased utilization of Nitric Oxide in the nasal passages
- Improved Memory and Sense of Smell
- Improved recovery from colds and flus
The change in my own breathing has been profound after I became consistent with nasal breathing in most of my activities.
In many of Dr. Feldenkrais’ lessons, he asks us to feel the air moving through the nostrils. A generous and potent series of breathing lessons is titled Rhythmic Breathing and all these lessons draw our attention to air in and out through the nose.
In the lesson called “Directed Breathing”, Dr. Feldenkrais literally directs us to “listen to the air coming through the nostrils and try to imagine where it goes.” It is a lesson that allows us to travel internally through spaces we can only imagine what it might look like, going back toward the palate and into the tubes called bronchi.
I have taught clients privately as well as in a workshop setting to help them get an understanding of what might be driving their breathing challenges.
Sometimes switching to imagery is the best we can do, especially if the nose is congested. It can also take away the anxiety of “breathing right”. This brilliant lesson does just that. It is a fanciful journey of following a white dot or ball and pushing it along, plumbing the depths of our respiratory spaces.
The power of nasal breathing and utilizing our sinuses can not be taught without the awareness of speed and frequency of breaths. If a person breathes heavily and fast through the nose, that can cause irritation and inflammation to the passages. The Rhythmic Breathing lessons ask us to breathe in 4 parts slowly, to interrupt our usual patterns of breathing and slowly inhale, pause, exhale, pause in 4 equal parts. This is asked during specific movements that are made in the lesson.
Making breathing light and slow as well as not interrupting it when we are moving can be a challenging task. We often will pair our breathing with an activity such as yoga poses, lifting heavy things, or playing a sport. An exhale is very useful during a powerful swing of a tennis racket or golf club to hit a ball.
However, breathing can also be paired in an unhelpful way. If we perceive an activity to be difficult we might hold onto an inhale, thereby stiffening our chest. With these elegant Rhythmic Breathing lessons Dr. Feldenkrais keeps bringing us back to breathing in 4 equal parts in an almost hypnotic way while we navigate demanding movements such as lifting our head, or sitting onto our feet. In the end we hopefully avoid stiffening our body or moving too quickly or causing ourselves pain. At one point he directs us to slow our rhythm and make the breath “like an animal as if dead. “They breathe, but without movement of the body parts and without noise. Of course, you will see that an animal, who pretends to be dead, is breathing.”
Nasal breathing also helps us feel our lungs better. Why is that? Try to breathe through the mouth and notice what movement you might feel in the ribs and lungs and then try a few breaths through the nose. For both ways sense into the chest, sides, back, costal border, and lower belly. The quality of breathing is different. I sometimes describe it as a more full body, three dimensional sensation when nose breathing.
To feel this distinction more clearly, I ask students to pause their breath longer after an exhale; from 10 to 20 seconds if they are comfortable. This creates a shift in the pattern of breathing and allows for an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm. If you were to try this and then inhale through the nose, that three dimensional full body breath can be much easier to sense.
Pausing the breath after an exhale can be a good reset, especially if you are feeling so much tension that you feel shortness of breath or that you “can’t get enough air”. This sensation of oxygen hunger is in fact oversensitivity to carbon dioxide. The less CO2 in your blood, the more tension you will feel. It sounds counterintuitive, but pausing works to improve CO2 levels! If you have a habit of mouth breathing, or fast breathing this is a good way to interrupt and reset a new pattern. If you are unfamiliar with pausing the breath, It sometimes will take a few attempts with perhaps a shorter pause time to feel the relief of tension.
It is surprising how prevalent Hyperventilation is. Hyperventilation is defined as breathing more than our physiological needs. Up to 10% of the general population, 29% of asthma sufferers and 75% of those with anxiety are breathing too fast or too much during the day. I describe it as revving your engine when your car is in park. You can imagine how this would stress a car, not unlike how it would cause strain on our heart and other organs.
There can be many conditions that might cause us to hyperventilate, however, most of the time it is a habit and this habit might be paired with a particular activity that demands a lot of focus and attention.
If you again think about that car engine, and Dr. Feldenkrais’s guidance, you would look to a breathing pattern that is humming gently in the background, providing enough nourishment of oxygen to run everything as it is needed with efficiency, and with the minimum of effort.
To find out if you are successfully using your nose, here is a downloadable pdf called Awesome Nose Breather Checklist.
In the meantime I look forward to teaching at the upcoming FGNA Conference at the end of September on the topic of Understanding and Identifying Breathing Pattern Disorders. By honoring the beauty of self awareness and self discovery in the Feldenkrais Method, I look to the present theories of Breath Sciences to help future students deepen their understanding and enhance their abilities to self regulate with breath. Breath is everything and a cornerstone to our health and well-being.
Fariya Doctor is a graduate of the 2004 Toronto Training, and has her degree in Biology and a diploma in Massage Therapy. She is a passionate learner, mother of a neurodivergent son, and a lover of nature. Fariya is a Buteyko Breathing Instructor and specializes in helping people with Breathing Pattern Disorders. She volunteers as well on the Board of Directors of the FGNA. Her website is www.fariyadoctor.com