Proper breathing increases immunity against viral infections
A pandemic has limited and slowed our lives. Most of us have been allowed to redistribute our time and change for the better; reflection on life should enable us to get less hypersensitive to sudden changes. It can be assumed that new viruses will appear more frequently, and will affect the chronically ill, the less resistant persons, most severely.
On March 16, 2020, a study on the effect of the indoor air humidity and the likelihood of viral respiratory infection was published in the Annual Review of Virology. The researchers found a clear link between dry respiratory mucosa and decreased respiratorily, the immune response to viral infections. More and more researchers are searching for reasons for the weakened immunity against infections due to the newly emerging viruses. The way we live, and thus the tighter relationship we have formed with ourselves, have caused the systems that we have been developing throughout evolution to survive, to collapse. The respiratory system is one of the most overwhelmed systems in the body. Many years of raising pressures, the speed of life and the number of decisions related to stress have caused an increase in the number of breaths per minute: it has increased almost three times in the last 100 years. With the oxygen content in the atmosphere being unchanged, this is not an adaptation to less oxygen (this occurs when ascending the altitude above 4000 meters), but an adaptation to lack of free time and more pressure from our surroundings. The volume of the chest cavity is reduced; more energy is needed to breathe, so we prefer to breathe through the mouth. The latter is easier by a fifth compared to breathing through the nose because of a different air path through the upper respiratory system. However, this shortcut has its price.
Driving a car with brakes on
Even simple continuous mouth breathing and shallow breathing with the upper half of the chest (vertical breathing) incite stress receptors in the upper lungs, which additionally trigger the fight-or-flight type of stimulation and lead into a spiral of sympathetic dominance. Prolonged and vigorous activation of the sympathetic mode, which is only possible with an abundance of food and energy, results in the simultaneous activation of the parasympathetic mode. This reaction has the function of an emergency brake mechanism, which drastically slows down all bodily processes as protection against the burn-out, much like the effect of the current pandemic on modern societies. It leads to freeze mode, fatigue, depression, lack of motivation and causes the emergence of complex syndromes such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, disorders of the digestive system. A person in a freeze mode is similar to a car that is driven with brakes on and with full engine power. Freezing (or reactive immobility or attentive immobility) is an automatic, involuntary response to a threat and is characterized by the fact that a person’s functions no longer follow normal patterns but react unexpectedly and abnormally. The nervous system then responds without creativity and operates on previously learned patterns, although these patterns are not the best choice for a given situation. Freezing is an extremely common occurrence nowadays and is the main reason for many problems and illnesses. These include insomnia, apnea, arrhythmias, excessive sensitivity to temperature changes, a distorted sensation of fluid and food intake, all kinds of allergies, chemical and other dependencies, inability to direct attention, dementia and a variety of autoimmune diseases. At the same time, the ability to change the volume of the thoracic and abdominal cavities is diminished in this condition. The decreased ability of movement of the diaphragm makes breathing less efficient. This increases the need for breathing through the mouth and leads to dryness of the respiratory mucosa, and further to hypersensitivity to pathogenic organisms inhaled by air. Ineffective breathing decreases the overall efficiency of other life systems, which further increases the likelihood of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, metabolic syndrome. We know how these can be fatal in COVID-19 infection.
Breathing through the nose (nasal breathing)
The nose performs at least 30 functions, all are important and complement the role of the lungs, heart and other organs, states Dr Maurice Cottle, founder of the American Rhinologic Society. Nasal cavity plays a central role in the physiology of respiration. It boosts filtration, warming up and humidification of the inhaled air. Nasal breathing allows the air, when it enters the lungs, to have adequate temperature and therefore, sufficient supply of oxygen to the body. Breathing through the nose when awake compared to breathing through the mouth faces more airflow resistance. The result is a 1/5 increase in oxygen uptake due to higher CO2 levels in the blood. Breathing through the nose warms up and moistens the air and prevents mucous membranes from drying out, removing a significant amount of pathogens, and raising the concentration of nitric oxide in lungs and blood.
Nitric oxide content is essential for the proper functioning of the immune system, and there is a high concentration of nitric oxide in the nasal cavity of a healthy person. It dilates blood vessels and improves blood flow, kills parasites, bacteria and viruses and increases immunity. Nitric oxide affects several vital processes: it binds and releases oxygen from the red blood cells; it regulates blood pressure and reduces inflammation in the body. The body receives about a quarter of all the necessary nitric oxide through the nasal breathing. When breathing through the mouth, the effect of nitric oxide on the bodily processes is significantly smaller. Research studies have linked low levels of nitric oxide in the blood to serious conditions such as high blood pressure, stroke, arteriosclerosis and sleep apnea. Proper breathing supplies sufficient amount of nitric oxide in the lungs and blood, it allows the blood to have uninterrupted flow through the body, ensuring that essential organs receive enough oxygen and nutrients. By keeping the veins wide enough, the heart can balance the pressure needed to send blood through the body. Levels of nitric oxide in the body can be increased by breathing slowly through the nose, regular and healthy physical activity, and consumption of foods that boosts the production of nitric oxide.
More and more research studies show that nasal breathing has a relaxing effect. Even as much as only 5-minute breathing through the nose raises the oxygen level in the skin by one-tenth with the same oxygen level in the blood, clearly indicating the effect of nasal breathing on improved oxygen supply to the tissues. Proper breath through the nose eases blood flow through the lungs and raises oxygen level in the arteries. While reading various old travel books, I repeatedly came across observations from researchers about how mothers of indigenous peoples turned their babies and small children to the side while they were sleeping, closing their mouths, thus promoting proper breathing. Researchers found a lower incidence of respiratory diseases and better immunity in native children compared to immigrant children arriving from a more modern lifestyle.
Aleš Ernst, teacher of the AEQ method Level 5