Breath: The Superpower You Use 25,000 Times a Day
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Published on October 26, 2021

woman taking calming breath

Breath: The Superpower You Use 25,000 Times a Day

Be it wide, tiny, bulbous or button-like, your nose is a super-hero organ. While often overlooked, it’s much more than cosmetic – it’s tremendously powerful.

When I recently finished the book “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” by James Nestor, it reminded me of how we can connect modern science and ancient wellness practices. When they converge, approaches we all can use are created.

We hear about breathing and “our breath” in many settings: mind-body classes, fitness programs or sports. Breathing is a big deal. But how you breathe is an even bigger deal.

In short: we need to use our noses more.

Look What It Can Do

Our nose is a conduit to bring oxygen to our every cell, and it is the only organ that can stimulate chemical, hormonal and nervous-system signals all at the same time.

Genetically, smell is oldest of the senses. Yet it still has so many effects on our circulatory, immune, metabolic and nervous function. Sense of smell can affect mood, sleep and sexual function, too. The nose does much more that we might not even notice.

Some of its daily work includes:

  • Cleaning, warming and moisturizing the air that we breathe for better absorption.
  • Helping us inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide about 25,000 times a day.
  • Collecting scents that help us connect to our surroundings intuitively.

The mucosal tissue lining our nasal cavity is highly specialized, and if you pay close attention, you will note that your nostrils alternatively open and close throughout the day. Science understands that our nostrils pulse to their own rhythm opening and closing based on our body's circadian rhythm, moods and even the Earth's energy cycles.

Ancient Arts and Modern Breathing Science

There are many ancient breathing practices, ones that focus on proper, purposeful breathing in order to make our bodies, minds and spirits their best. Recent research indicates that breathing through your nose, especially in varied patterns with a focus on slowing down can pay off in huge ways.

Most of us average about 20 breaths each minute. When we focus on breathing through our noses, and slowing down the way we let breath out, we can try cut that number in half. When we do, we optimize a wide range of bodily functions, including:

  • Cardiovascular oxygenation of vital organs
  • Better control of conditions like asthma, sleep apnea and some autoimmune conditions.
  • Decreased exertion and increased endurance especially in athletics and exercise.

Teaching yourself to use these techniques is a great place to start. Breath is a power switch, one that can turn on good things in your health, as well as alter or reduce bad stuff. Try some slower breathing on your own, or try a more formal approach using methods found in many reliable sources. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to start – and how challenging it can be to master.

There’s a lot more mystery, strength and magic in our noses and our breathing than I can share in one story. My hope is you’ll slow down, think about this tiny-but-important part of your day. I look forward to sharing more insights on breath with you soon.

Dawn Flickema, MD, is a physician with Avera Medical Group Integrative Medicine.

Vital Wellness is a series of stories from Avera Medical Group providers who offer insight on sometimes-overlooked aspects of health, wellness and well-being.

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