One of the first lessons in the book The Yogi Science of Breath by Yogi Ramacharaka (published in English in 1904) is to learn how to breathe through the nostrils, and to overcome the common practice of mouth breathing. Please read an excerpt from this fascinating book:
“The breathing mechanism of Man is so constructed that he may breathe either through the mouth or nasal tubes, but it is a matter of vital importance to him which method he follows, as one brings health and strength and the other disease and weakness.
It should not be necessary to state to the student that the proper method of breathing is to take the breath through the nostrils, but alas! The ignorance among civilized people regarding this simple matter is astounding. We find people in all walks of life habitually breathing through their mouths, and allowing their children to follow their horrible and disgusting example.
Many of the diseases to which civilized man is subject are undoubtedly caused by this common habit of mouth breathing. Children permitted to breathe in this way grow up with impaired vitality and weakened constitutions, and in manhood and womanhood break down and become chronic invalids. The mother of the savage race does better, being evidently guided by her intuition. She seems to instinctively recognize that the nostrils are the proper channels for the conveyor of air to the lungs, and she trains her infant to
close its little lips and breathe through the nose. She tips its head forward when it is asleep, which attitude closes the lips and makes nostril breathing imperative. If our civilized mothers were to adopt the same plan, it would work a great good for the race.
Many contagious diseases are contracted by the disgusting habit of mouth breathing, and many cases of cold and catarrhal affections are also attributable to the same cause. Many persons who, for the sake of appearances, keep their mouth closed during the day, persist in mouth breathing at night and often contract the disease in this way.
Carefully conducted scientific experiments have shown that soldiers and sailors who sleep with their mouths open are much more liable to contract contagious diseases than those who breathe properly through the nostrils. An instance is related in which smallpox became epidemic on a man-of-war in foreign parts, and every death, which resulted, was that of some sailor or marine who was a mouth breather, not a single nostril breather succumbing.
The organs of respiration have their only protective apparatus, filter, or dust catcher, in the nostrils. When the breath is taken through the mouth, there is nothing from mouth to lungs to strain the air, or to catch the dust and other foreign matter in the air. From mouth to lungs the dirt or impure substance has a clear track, and the entire respiratory system is unprotected. And, moreover, such incorrect breathing admits cold air to the organs, thereby injuring them. Inflammation of the respiratory organs often results from the inhalation of cold air through the mouth. The man, who breathes through the mouth at night, always awakens with a parched feeling in the mouth and dryness in the throat. He is violating one of nature’s laws and is sowing the seeds of disease.
Once more, remember that the mouth affords no protection to the respiratory organs, and cold air, dust and impurities, and germs readily enter by that door. On the other hand, the nostrils and nasal passages show evidence of the careful design of nature in this respect. The nostrils are two narrow, tortuous channels, containing numerous bristly hairs, which serve the purpose of a filter or sieve to strain the air of its impurities, etc., which are expelled when the breath is exhaled. Not only do the nostrils serve this important purpose, but they also perform an important function in warming the air inhaled. The long narrow winding nostrils are filled with warm mucous membrane, which coming in contact with the inhaled air warms it so that it can do no damage to the delicate organs of the throat, or to the lungs.
No animal, excepting man, sleeps with the mouth open or breathes through the mouth, and in fact it is believed that it is only civilized man who so prevents nature’s functions, as the savage and barbarian races almost invariably breathe correctly. It is possible that this unnatural habit among civilized men has been acquired through unnatural methods of living, enervating luxuries, and excessive warmth.
The refining, filtering and straining apparatus of the nostrils render the air fit to reach the delicate organs of the throat and the lungs, and the air is not fit to so reach these organs until it has passed through nature’s refining process. The impurities which are stopped and retained by the sieves and mucous membrane of the nostrils, are thrown out again by the expelled breath, in exhalation, and in case they have accumulated too rapidly or have managed to escape through the sieves and have penetrated forbidden regions, nature protects us by producing a sneeze, which violently ejects the intruder.
The air, when it enters the lungs is as different from the outside air, as is distilled water different from the water of the cistern. The intricate purifying organization of the nostrils, arresting and holding the impure particles in the air, is as important as is the action of the mouth in stopping cherry-stones and fish-bones and preventing them from being carried on to the stomach. A man should no more breathe through his mouth than he would attempt to take food through his nose.
Another feature of mouth breathing is that the nasal passages, being thus comparatively unused, consequently fail to keep themselves clean and clear, and become clogged up and unclean, and are apt to contract local diseases. Like abandoned roads that soon become filled with weeds and rubbish, unused nostrils become filled with impurities and foul matter.
One who habitually breathes through the nostrils is not likely to be troubled with clogged or stuffy nostrils, but for the benefit of those who have been more or less addicted to the unnatural mouth breathing, and who wish to acquire the natural and rational method, it may perhaps be well to add a few words regarding the way to keep their nostrils clean and free from impurities.
A favorite Oriental method is to snuff a little water up the nostrils allowing it to run down the passage into the throat; from thence it may be ejected through the mouth. Some Hindu yogis immerse the face in a bowl of water, and by a sort o suction draw in quite a quantity of water, but this latter method requires considerable practice, and the first-mentioned method is equally efficacious, and much more easily performed.
Another good plan is to open the window and breathe freely, closing one nostril with the finger or thumb, sniffing up the air through the open nostril. Then repeat the process on the other nostril. Repeat several times, changing nostrils. This method will usually clear the nostrils of obstructions.
In case the trouble is caused by catarrh it is well to apply a little Vaseline or camphor ice or similar preparation. Or sniff up a little witch-hazel extract once in a while, and you will notice a marked improvement. A little care and attention will result in the nostrils becoming clean and remaining so.
We have given considerable space to this subject of nostril-breathing, not only because of its great importance in its reference to health, but because nostril breathing is a prerequisite to the practice of the breathing exercises, and because nostril breathing is one of the basic principles underlying the yogi science of breath.
By Yogi Ramacharaka
Published in English in 1904