Follow by Email

Friday, 16 December 2011

Inhale, exhale

Andy asked a good question in class last week. "Why do we inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth?" I say good question because, apart from the fact that it's good to ask questions it also highlights the fact that we can take things for granted. Once something gets repeated a few times it can become assumed that it is the correct thing to do and that everyone knows why we are doing it.

So in answer to Andy's question here are a few points and ideas on inhale/nose exhale /mouth (of course this is a big subject, so the following is a quick skim!)

1. Inhaling through the nose warms the air making it less harsh to the lungs especially in cold weather

2. The nose has mucus and hairs that filter that air going into the lungs - this means less work for the immune system

3. Inhale through the nose means that we breathe less. That may sound odd, but it means there is a higher level of CO2 and our cells are more oxygenated. CO2 is responsible for determining when oxygen is released. When muscles are used more intensely, CO2 levels rise and more oxygen is sent to them. If there is insufficient CO2 in the blood, oxygen is not distributed as readily as it should be - which is why people can faint when hyperventilating. Some claim that most people actually inhale more air than their body needs (four to six litres a minute) to supply the blood with oxygen, which triggers the body's defence mechanisms

4. Nose inhale allows for regulation of the breathing

5. Mouth exhale allows for quick / larger release of breath

6. Exhaling through the nose can be uncomfortable (other than to clear blockages!)

7. Mouth inhale can dry the throat, particularly in cold weather

So should we always do things just one way? Well no, of course not, it is up to each of us to try things out for ourselves to increase understanding. I was training a group a few weeks back and asked them some questions during the session. Everyone seemed a bit surprised - the teacher is supposed to give answers, not ask questions! This highlights another aspect of training - your mindset in terms of taking in information.

Don't come to class just to be a sponge. That implies a very passive outlook on your behalf. Of course you need to be able to take in information, but of course that information comes in many forms, not just a teacher stood in front of the class lecturing. If the training is all in lines, follow-my-leader, no questions, do-as-you're-told...then it might be a nice hobby to get away from things for a bit, but the knowledge gained will be limited.

The important thing is to approach training with a curious, enquiring mind. Act on the information given, test it, if it works, file it away for future use. Be aware that in different circumstances it may need to be modified. To return to the breathing - you may not be able to nose inhale with a broken nose for example. Or if tired you yawn to take in more air quickly.

This is one reason why we rotate the inhale / exhale and breath hold cycles during drills and exercises. So try the same with nose/mouth, switch them round and see how it feels.

As I was explaining to the group, when you learn something this way you retain much more information because you have taught yourself. I know in my music, I remember a piece much easier if I have helped to write it rather than having to learn something by reading the sheet music. The sheet music becomes a crutch, the mind is lazy and will take the easiest route every time unless you tell it otherwise!

There are modern therapies such as Buteyko which are centred around breath control, particularly in the easing of asthma symptoms. Scientific / medical opinion seems divided as to its benefits. There are also much older traditions, be they Christian hesychastic or Eastern yogic which involve breath control - of course they also highlight the strong connection between breathing and state of mind. Sports science is starting to catch up too, with devices now available to train the breathing muscles.

And remember, the single most important thing with inhaling and exhaling....KEEP DOING IT!


  1. Excellent! When asked about the *most* important aspect of breathing and breath training my favourite 'big secret' is inevitably;

    "Don't stop" LOL

    Keep it up Rob