For 20 over years, my morning routine has been like this:
Wake up wishing that I had never set my alarm, throat feeling extremely scratchy and parched with a breath that could probably sedate a cow.
I take a shower to actually wake me up and get ready to head out for the day.
And then, it happens…
Like clockwork, my nose begins to leak like a tap that refuses to shut off.
This massive leakage usually lasts till about lunch time before my nose starts to acclimatise to whatever environment that I’m in. If I’m in an air-conditioned environment, I’m basically screwed if I have no pocket tissues with me.
The throat and mouth part is pretty easy to solve, but the lack of rest is not a quick fix.
Actually scratch that, it is NOT an easy fix, the inflammation and finicky nature of my throat makes breakfast choices frustrating. Any trace of oil in my breakfast food kicks off a bout of throat clearings and spitting (gross I know).
To those who know me well, know that I had the disgusting habit of spitting a lot. Not because I’m an uncultured idiot (I hope I’m not), but it was due to the massive build up of phlegm in my throat. It was frustrating and uncomfortable to live like that.
As I grew older, it got progressively worse, probably because my diet was junk and I wasn’t exercising much.
It honestly felt like there wasn’t much hope in sight…
Where it all went downhill
As a young kid, I was struggling with lots of blocked nose issues and that impacted the ability to breathe well in most environments. Oftentimes, it felt as though I was breathing underwater.
I sought help from my parents but they weren’t well-versed enough to really comment or problem-solve nose issues (without taking drugs). So unbeknownst to my brother, he would gift me the one piece of advice that would negatively impact my life for the next 20 years.
He told me to breathe through my mouth.
He too has been dealing with sinus issues all throughout his life, even at the time of this writing. It prevented him from getting good sleep most days and he sought the refuge of mouth-breathing to circumvent the nose issues. What we didn’t know was how mouth-breathing would exacerbate the inflammation in our sinuses and throats.
Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art
It was only until I listened to James Nestor’s Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art that I realised how bad mouth-breathing was. I’ve always had a stong suspicion about mouth-breathing, but what choice did I really have? 🤷
We all know that our nostrils act as natural filters to filter the air from foreign pathogens, dust and other nasty stuff. But what happens when you stop using your nose to breathe?
Enter James Nestor’s ingenious (and dangerous) experiment. The mouth-breathing experiment. To understand fully what mouth-breathing does to an individual, James decided to plug his nose for about 10–14 days. When he told his Mexican born neighbour about his experiment, his neighbour was vehemently opposed to the idea and even shared with him that when he was a child in Mexico, teachers would smack mouth-breathing students (both figuratively and literally 😂) and told the kids that mouth-breathing was the root cause for many diseases!
A stern warning for such a deceivingly trivial action.
The experiment went terribly for James. The data was good, but the process was hell. James witnessed his blood pressure skyrocket, heart rate variability (HRV) shoot up and his sleep apnea regressed to the point where his body would cease to breathe for minutes on end before being able to breathe. (Just to put this into context, humans die without 3–5 minutes of air).
I was genuinely afraid after listening to the harrowing process. I had been mouth-breathing all my life and I related to everything that he went through in his experiment. There were many instances in my life where I even felt my heart miss beats (heart arrythmia) and I had to cough it out to normalise my heart rate. I was getting quite concerned about it because the occurrences were getting more and more frequent (my family has a history of heart disease).
I genuinely thought that my health would only worsen, until I listened to James Nestor’s major rediscoveries.
Reversing 20+ Years of Being A Mouth-Breather
For centuries, the ancient people had a strong disdain for mouth-breathing and always condemned it. The ancient Chinese believed that air breathed in through the mouth was stale while the air breathed in through the nostrils were filled with energy (qi). It sounds rather stupid and simple, but think about it carefully, the air coming through your nostrils are warmed and thus less dense (lighter feeling) compared to air coming through your mouth which is colder and more dense (heavier feeling).
And so, what did I do?
I began my transition entirely from mouth-breathing to becoming a normal nose-breathing human. I basically started to breathe through my nose which was what it was originally designed to do!
It was awkward and weird at first. Initially it felt like my nostrils were tight and I couldn’t get as much air as I mechanically could with my mouth. On top of that, the sudden switch had caused some irritation in my nose, resulting in bouts of runny nose.
The hardest part was training myself to nose-breathe while sleeping, I had to catch myself multiple times to correct the breathing. But gradually, I began to see restorative effects of nose-breathing in my life. Some have even resorted to taping their mouths to stop mouth-breathing during sleep.
Within 14 days, my nasal leakages cut down by more than 80%. Pre-experiment, there were at least 4 days per week that my nose would leak profusely and my throat would be swollen and filled with phlegm. But after those 14 days of nose-breathing, the allergic reactions cut down to once a week. Now it only happens about once every 10–14 days.
This was a game changer for me, for someone plagued by this ailment for so long. My sleep quality increased tremendously and those scary heart stopping moments practically stopped too.
What Can You Do Moving Forward?
These experiences are not unique to me, millions of people in Singapore and around the world are plagued with nose/sinus and throat issues. Some choose to go for surgery to sort it out.
But before going under the knife, why not try something free and extremely accessible, before taking the nuclear option? I must however, caveat that nose-breathing is best accompanied with regular cardio-centric exercises to reap the full restorative benefits.
Regular exercise initially helped with my sinus reactions, but it didn’t sustain for long. It was only when I combined both exercise and nose-breathing that true transformation happened.
This journey has been extremely rewarding and humbling, it has taught me that no one has to live in a perpetual state of “normalised suffering”.
For years, my sinus issues became a “label” and it even formed a part of my identity. Many of us do that unknowingly, it’s like a weed that slips into your garden and grows to become part of the garden.
No matter what battle you are facing, there is always a way out. Don’t give in to your ailments, actively seek out potential solutions that are sustainable and good for your body.
It only takes one or two small changes in your life to greatly transform your health.
Never give up!