I never gave much thought to the way I breathe — outside of the context of meditation or yoga, at least. All I could really tell you is that with persistent allergies, and the inflammation and congestion that comes with them, I’ve always struggled to breathe through my nose.
In yoga, they tell you to breathe through your nose.
In meditation, they tell you to breathe through your nose.
I could never do it. Not for long, anyway.
Recently Audible recommended an audiobook to me about the physiology of breathing that sounded interesting enough. I downloaded Breath, by James Nestor, ready to be taught some more meditation breathing techniques … and boy it was not what I was expecting.
Nestor spent 10 years researching the physiology of breathing, participating in university studies, and traveling the world to talk to experts and try their breathing therapies firsthand.
I learned a ton from the book — but my most important takeaway was something I’d struggled with my whole life: Breathe through your nose.
Turns out, you can train yourself to do it — even with allergies.
I’ve been practicing conscious nose-breathing for about 3 weeks now, and it’s been a fascinating experiment. While I’ve seen a lot of benefits — I stay more hydrated, I feel less stress in my body in stressful situations, I’m sleeping better and I’m getting fewer headaches — the biggest benefit has been that the more I breathe through my nose, the more I can breathe through my nose. It’s retraining the tissues in my throat and soft palate, expanding my nasal passages and reducing the inflammation in my sinuses.
Allergies and all, I’m breathing better.
I believe this is also helping with the neck tension that I’ve had since February.
As a writer, I’m in front of a computer all day — and with the mystery novel I’ve been working on, I’m crouched over a laptop late into the night, too. That’s probably what caused my neck problems to begin with, but the stress of the coronavirus crisis didn’t help. For the last 8 months, my neck has been painfully locked by 3pm. I tried everything, including going to a chiropractor three times a week for a month, but nothing helped. Starting in the afternoon every workday, I couldn’t turn my head.
After 3 weeks of purposefully breathing through my nose, however, the tension is starting to ease up. There have even been days where my neck hasn’t locked at all. Maybe it’s unconnected, but I would be surprised.
But here’s where things get even more interesting …
I also read Deep Work by Cal Newport recently, which is all about focus and getting into the flow state to produce higher-quality work.
As a writer, focus is everything to me. If my attention is pulled in multiple directions, I simply can’t do my job. So I’m always looking for ways to gain focus and cut down on distraction. Deep Work had some fantastic ideas — some that I’ve already been practicing in one way or another (like having a separate computer for book writing vs. client work), some that were good reminders of things I already knew to work well for me but I’ve been slacking on (check email only at scheduled times and get off social media), and some that were brand new to me (identify a small number of ambitious outcomes you want to pursue during your deep work time; schedule deep work time based on your work philosophy — like right now my approach is rhythmic, deep work sessions focused on writing books are part of my daily routine).
In the last two weeks, I’ve combined conscious nose-breathing with some of Newport’s deep-work focus tactics and WOW. My productivity is through the roof, and I’m not feeling as overwhelmed or fragmented as I normally would doing as much as I’m doing.
At this rate, I feel extremely confident I’ll have a rough draft of my mystery novel, Paint It Red, done by mid-to-late Sept, a second draft off to my beta readers by Halloween, and a published book by Christmas.