Shut Your Mouth

BECAUSE IT’S FINALLY TIME FOR YOUR BREATHING LESSON

taped mouthSeriously. I thought when people were telling me to shut my mouth that they just didn’t want to hear all the amazing gems that fall from it with such frequency. In fact the gems are fine. But it’s essential to keep the mouth shut to ensure nose breathing, which in turn allows for correct tongue placement which then ensures proper jaw development and facial structure.

Guess what? It is not okay to breath through your mouth at any time.

NEVER BREATHE THROUGH YOUR MOUTH!

Not during the day, not while eating, not while exercising, not while sleeping. Your fussy yoga teacher wants you to breath out your mouth while doing yoga or pilates? Okay, fine. But just for that one hour session. And you should know that most original yogic texts discuss the importance of breathing both in and out through the nose, despite what modern yoga and exercise practitioners are telling you.

When you are exhaling through your small nostrils, rather than your large mouth, a back-pressure is created and the exhale is restricted and slowed down, which gives the lungs more time to absorb oxygen. Most of our oxygen uptake occurs during the restricted exhale through the nose.

You probably think you are breathing just fine, but are you?

80% of the Western population breathes incorrectly, through the mouth. This is also called “over-breathing”, where you take in way more air than you need, and exhale way too much of it. We have all been taught that sucking in huge gulps of air is great because it’s full of oxygen, and oxygenating our blood and tissues is the gold standard. Well that was all wrong, as usual.

When you breath in the mouth, or over-breath, the lungs are overstimulated with oxygen but the airways become dried and vaso-constricted, so an inefficient amount of oxygen is actually absorbed through the alveoli in the lungs.

By contrast, when you breath in your nose, the air is warmed, moistened, conditioned and mixed with nitric oxide, which both kills bacteria and works as a vasodilator on the airways, arteries and capillaries. That vaso-dilation increases the surface area of the alveoli where oxygen is absorbed at the very end of the bronchial tubes, meaning more oxygen is absorbed more efficiently when you breath through your nose.

It’s counter-intuitive, but the best way to oxygenate our blood and tissues is by taking small, gentle breaths in and out through the nose.

WHAT IF MY NOSE IS BLOCKED

Well let me start by telling you how to make your nose blocked in the first place. Literally all you have to do is breathe through your mouth for ten minutes straight. Go ahead and try it right now and I can almost guarantee that after ten minutes, your nose will be stuffed up.

A simple fix is to take an in and out breath, through your mouth if the nose is impossible, and then plug your nose with your fingers after exhaling. Then nod your head up and down while holding your breath for as long as you can. This builds up carbon dioxide in your blood, which can thin the mucous blocking your nose. When you have to, unplug your nose and try breathing through it.

No? Didn’t work? Just keep doing it. Three times’s a charm.

If this method doesn’t do anything for you, you might have a very deviated septum or small nasal airways. You’re not alone. Most modern humans do not develop symmetrical septums or wide airways anymore, and it really comes down to what and how we eat rather than genetics. It boils down to whether you were persuaded to eat a lot of raw, crunchy and challenging foods as a child and adolescent, or whether you were fed soft, mushy, “safe” foods.

The problem with all of our modern, soft foods (all processed foods are designed to literally dissolve in your mouth) is that they don’t give our jaws any kind of work out or use. Our jaw development depends on being used, and growth is signaled by exerting pressure by difficult chewing situations and by pressure of the tongue on the upper soft palate. Without those signals we get undeveloped jaws, crowded teeth, and restricted airways.

Once you start looking for these things (under-developed jaws, crowded teeth, long faces, mouth breathers), you will see them everywhere.

THE FRENCH METHOD

That’s a fancy name for taping your mouth. When my daughter was young, I read that French women tape up their children’s mouths when they sleep to force them to breath through their noses, and to ensure perfect symmetrical facial structure and jaw development. Well I just thought that was Draconian and vain when I read about it, and tossed the anecdote aside.

Now cut to 5 years later – and my daughter’s jaw isn’t developing properly and her teeth are too crowded with nowhere to grow. In addition to outfitting her with an A.L.F. (Advanced Lightwire Functional appliance), I have her Skyping once a week with a myofunctional therapist in California who gets her to perform mouth and tongue exercises, and who insists she tape up her mouth at night.

Well, we both tried it. The French are kind of chic, after all.

The problem is that in the middle of the night, we both end up pulling off the tape in our sleep – I assume to get more air through our mouths. One night I was actually successful at keeping the tape on all night, but in the morning when I pulled it off, the first thing I did was gasp for air through my mouth.

Nothing creepy about taking photos of sleeping children, right?

Nothing creepy about taking photos of sleeping children, right?

Now this gasping for air isn’t really out of necessity. It’s out of habit. Our bodies have become accustomed to our airway inefficiencies and we prefer to pull in huge, deep breaths even though little of that oxygen is actually absorbed. This habit can be broken, but it is going to take a lot of long nights of tape on the mouth.

THE BENEFITS OF SHALLOW BREATHING THROUGH THE NOSE

  • I already mentioned that the nose produces nitric oxide, which increases oxygen capacity in the lungs by about 15% among other remarkable things, like killing bacteria, viruses and germs.
  • Breathing through the nose with the mouth shut allows the normal mouth bacteria to stay in harmony, which maintains pleasant breath. Mouth breathing increases negative bacteria which leads quickly to bad breath.
  • Your nose is connected through the nervous system to your heart and lungs. Breathing through your nose forges a vital connection between these three organs, which fosters harmony to lower stress responses, and bring blood pressure and heart rate into balance. It is essential in any kind of mediation or yoga to bring these organs into coherence by breathing through the nose.
  • Nose breathers maintain their sense of smell and taste throughout their lives, which is pleasant but is more importantly a safety feature. Mouth breathers aren’t as able to smell and taste foods that are spoiled or off.
  • Mouth breathers become snorers and sometimes develop sleep walking or sleep apnea, which can lead to chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. Nose breathers can avoid these problems while maximizing oxygen absorption. 

LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH TOGETHER, TONGUE ON THE ROOF OF YOUR MOUTH

This is a mantra that you need to get into. “Lips together, teeth together, tongue on the roof of your mouth” was popularized by Dr. Michael Mew, B.D.S, M.Sc. His presentation called “Modern Melting Faces” is available on Youtube. I will post a link to the video because it is really worth seeing, especially the part where he calls out audience members for having their mouths open. Losers!

Ideally, this habit is something you do from birth. So if you have kids, get them on it pronto.

However this is still the ideal mouth position for adults as well. Although our jaws are not actively growing and changing like a child’s jaw will be, our jaws are still moving. You can tell because your teeth start to crowd as you get older. This is partly because of bone loss (yahoo!) and partly because of lack of use. So stop eating all those soft, mushy foods and start exercising your jaw and maintaing proper position. It will keep your face looking younger, and will very slowly change your shape to be more symmetrical.

If you want those changes to go a little faster, you could consider asking your dentist about an A.L.F (the Advanced Lightwire Functional appliance I mentioned earlier, that my daughter uses) or a Homeoblock appliance, which looks a little more intense. However these work not by moving your teeth or even your jaw, but essentially by training your tongue to be your appliance of change. And all you have to do is keep your lips together, teeth together, tongue on the roof of your mouth.

BUT I’M A GRINDER AND HAVE A MOUTH GUARD

Yeah, I hear you. Your dentist fitted you with a mouth guard to keep your teeth APART. So you don’t want to start keeping your teeth together because it might lead to grinding. Well what leads to grinding is having an inactive tongue. You always want your tongue to be exerting an equal and opposite force against the force of your teeth pulling together. Your teeth grind because they are unhappy with the shape of their bite, and they are trying to force a change. Get your tongue actively involved and your tongue and teeth together can make that change for you, and end up with a more comfortable bite. You might be better off with an A.L.F. or similar instead of a mouth guard. It is exactly the opposite way to go, where you cure the bite problem rather than resist it.

A side note on mouth guards: most are made with Bisphenol-A, the hormone-mimicing chemical. The ones that don’t have BP-A in them have something else in them. You just don’t want to chew on plastic all night long, releasing hormone-disrupters into your bloodstream for 8 hours. Throw it out right now. My former dentist fitted me for a BP-A mouthguard while simultaneously asking me for a donation for his bike ride to end breast cancer. I was, and continue to be, deeply offended by the sick irony. (Hormone disrupters lead to breast cancer, duh, in case that wasn’t clear enough).

SUMMARY FOR HOW TO BREATHE

You thought breathing was the easiest of the functions and that you had at least mastered that one thing. Sorry to wreck your fantasy. Basically all I’m telling you to do is:

  • go get some tape for your mouth and your children’s mouths for nighttime
  • work on your nose breathing during the day
  • eat crunchy whole foods
  • keep your lips together, teeth together and tongue on the roof of your mouth.

It’s just breathing, you can do it.

SOME REFERENCES

Dr. Mike Mew’s Youtube presentation “Craniofascial Dystrophy: Modern Melting Faces

A whole bunch of articles about A.L.F. appliances

Google these words: “homeoblock before and after” to see some amazing photos of transformations

The Buteyko breathing technique

Pubmed abstracts and articles about the dangers of mouth breathing, the craniofacial defects that result from mouth breathing, and the forward head posture that results from mouth breathing

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4 thoughts on “Shut Your Mouth

  1. Vivian Law says:

    Hi there, your blog came recommended today and this piece on mouth breathing is great. In my experience as a fitness trainer and yoga teacher, I notice that through the practice of breathing and relaxation exercises, a person’s breath pattern can begin to change. I highly recommend The Breathing Book by Donna Farhi and Anatomy of Breathing by Blandine Calais Germain for simple exercises to improve breathing.

    • Amazing, I will look those books up. I’ve noticed that I only had to tape my mouth a couple times to “teach” myself to keep my mouth closed at night. The body wants to learn new habits, but unfortunately learns bad habits just as easily!

  2. flora says:

    Thank you for highlighting the irony embodied by the BPA-mouth-guard-fitting-dentist who wanted you to give money towards breast cancer research. He probably means well but I have seen/heard of many examples of this kind of irony and I’m very happy to read the words of someone who realises it and talks about it: you. Thank you!

  3. Cheryl says:

    You should be an Osteopath!

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