Nose Breathing

“Lips Together!”

I have a handsome face (LOL!) not only because of parental genes but also because of how I breathe. Given that you and I have been breathing without much thought from the moment we emerged into this world, it might seem unusual that I pick it as a topic for today’s conversation. I will take you through my motivation behind today’s piece and my thoughts and advice for anyone who also breathes about 20,000 times a day.

Even if you don’t like how your nose looks, it makes sense to use it well.

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My Kenyan Friends and My Foolishness
Mindfulness – Meditation, Nose Breathing and ROTI
Is it Really 20,000 Breaths in a Day?
Why Control Your Breathing
Money and Your Breath
The Best Book on Breath
The Breadth of Breath Options
1234What You Breathe In
1234Not Breathing at All
12344-Parts Cycle
1234Why Breathe IN through your Nose and NOT your Mouth?
1234Mouth Breathing and Why You Should NOT!
1234Open Mouth, Sex Appeal and Gender Stereotypes
Why avoid breathing OUT through your mouth?
1234The Curious Case of Bunged-Up Button
1234While Speaking
1234While Sleeping
1234And About Children
1234Transitioning to Nose Breathing
1234When Strength Training
12341234Spine Support and Dental Health
1234When Running
12341234Short Sprints
12341234Longer Distances
1234When Cycling
1234When Swimming
12341234Short Distances
12341234Longer Distances
1234Yoga and Martial Arts
1234When is it OK to breathe through the mouth?
1234My Wim Hof Caveat
1234For Unusual Health Conditions
Parting Message

My Kenyan Friends and My Foolishness [top]

About 13 years ago, I ran with a Kenyan friend on a beach in Mumbai. We did a fairly fast run. It was only a few kilometres long but demanding. Because we were running together for the first time, I kept turning to look at his face to check if he was struggling so that we might slow down our pace. He had an expression of calm on his face and I was intrigued that he had his lips consciously sealed tight. After the run, when he said he found the pace tough, I asked him why he was not then breathing through the much larger air inlet – his mouth. He simply said, “That’s how we were taught to run in Kenya when we were young, to breathe only through the nose.

A few years later I ran with another Kenyan friend in Dubai. He had swum for his country in the African Games and was no cardiorespiratory endurance weakling. He had never run more than 5km but on that day’s 15km run, he performed noticeably better than I did. Again, he too breathed only through his nose.

For a man who is recognized as being very wise, I was extremely foolish to not have caught on to something so very critical about something so very basic about my own physical existence. It was only as recently as 6 years ago that the penny dropped and I was wise enough to switch to breathing in only through my nose when I run. And, breathing out too only through my nose.

It definitely bumped up my mindfulness with running.

Mindfulness – Meditation, Nose Breathing and ROTI [top]

I don’t have anything against quiet meditation as a form of mindfulness practice. But, if we follow 20 minutes of that with 20,000 breaths in the day incorrectly executed, that’s probably quite silly, and not big ROTI. With only 86,400 seconds in a day, it’s better to not waste 20,000 breaths in a day that you have to take anyway.

Your respiratory system forms the important interface in the divide between the external air and the internal you. It’s best that we are mindful about taking that seriously.

Is it Really 20,000 Breaths in a Day? [top]

Health-through-breath science experts will tell you that the ideal duration of a typical breath to keep you in a state of calm should be 5.5 seconds in and 5.5 seconds out i.e., 11 seconds in total. That’s equivalent to fewer than 8,000 breaths a day. If we are accused of having much shorter and shallower breathing, leading to a baseline of chronic stress, the estimate is that it is 20,000 breaths we take in a day, a total duration of 4.3 seconds for a breath cycle rather than 11 seconds. Depending on how physically intense your day is (e.g., during a fast 5km run you might breathe in every 1.5 seconds!) your actual rates of breathing for any given day of the week or hour of the day will vary. The important point here is that your breath is your tool for you to use for a better life.

Why Control Your Breathing? [top]

It does not matter who you are, there’s very little you truly control that is outside you. True mastery comes your way when you walk the path of self-mastery, which has all along its path the control of oneself.

Hunger pangs come our way, perhaps 2-3 times a day. You might feel thirsty 2-3 times a day. You may want to (or have to, if fasting) overcome those basic urges and experience personal growth. With your breath, you have 20,000 opportunities a day to add to or subtract value from your life. A breath seems so trivial to us, something we do without thinking, but doing it right or wrong 7,300,000 times a year will make a huge difference over a lifetime.

Money and Your Breath [top]

In literally every minute of your life you have a choice to impact your future by controlling your thoughts and actions in the present via your breathing. Today, that extra dollar that you earn that sits outside of you and that you are unlikely to ever spend, that dollar will not get you the quality of life that something that is within you and under your control will. Think about the inflation of your lungs more than the inflation in prices of so-called luxury goods. One day, God forbid, being able to breathe properly may well become a luxury for you.

The Best Book on Breath [top]

An easy-to-read game-changing book on health through your breath is the best-seller “Breath” by James Nestor. I cannot emphasize enough just how much of a must-read it is. I have read my own copy thrice and you can find it full of my annotations.

The Breadth of Breath Options [top]

We breathe in and out. We breathe in air that is full of many possible aromas and dangers (including the SARS-CoV-2 virus) and there are many possible combinations to consider besides just the orifice to use and the frequency of breaths.

What You Breathe In [top]

You know already that you should not smoke or vape. You have 100% control over that. Like I do, you can also decide to not spend time with people who smoke and vape. If you live in a polluted environment despite making as many changes to your microenvironment (e.g., plants, air filters) and lifestyle (e.g., avoiding certain activities in certain places at certain times) the significantly incremental action you can take is to breathe correctly.

Not Breathing at All [top]

You cannot hold your breath forever when you are alive, but doing so for painfully long durations provides you with an avenue for considerable personal growth. I have been experimenting with various Breath Hold protocols for almost 1,000 days now – daily without fail! It is but one of the many big ROTI tactics I use. About that, at length, another day…

4-Parts Cycle [top]

Consider the typical breath cycle of inholdouthold and observe that you have 4 parts in the cycle and that you can control each part separately. Thus, you have an almost infinite number of process protocols and, for each of them, a related outcome.

Why Breathe IN through your Nose and NOT your Mouth? [top]

The short answer is, “Because it is the correct way!

Just like you would not sit at the dining table and put food or water into your nose, you should not use your mouth for breathing in. When you breathe in through your nose, the following good things happen that will not happen when you breathe in through your mouth:

  • The air is filtered in your nostrils
  • Its humidity is raised to 95%
  • Its temperature is brought closer to your core body temperature
  • It reaches your lungs with nitric oxide released by your nasal passages
  • Your biological functions are enhanced by that nitric oxide, including…
  • The ability of nitric oxide to destroy pathogens you breathe in
  • More oxygen entering your blood than if you inhaled through your mouth because nitric oxide makes your blood vessels dilate
  • And so more oxygen reaching your working muscles and your brain

Mouth Breathing and Why You Should NOT! [top]

When you breathe in through your mouth:

  • You are doing something that is abnormal relative to nature’s blueprint
  • You will miss out on the advantages of breathing IN through your nose
  • You will create disadvantages for yourself that will multiply uncontrollably over time
  • It can cause your body to perpetually lean towards a sympathetic state e.g., freeze, fight or flight
  • Being stuck in a stressful state will not be good unless you want to induce a state of that kind. Most of the time, you will not want that, not least when you want to relax to think better or to sleep!
  • You will constantly deal with a dry mouth – an unnecessary contribution to dehydration and bad breath
  • Your jaw will distort over time and you will not look as good as you could
  • You will look like a mouth-breather, a term of abuse in many cultures!

Whether in or out, it is generally best that you breathe only through your nose. There are some (literally) rare exceptions when you have no choice and may be unable to use your nose for inhaling or exhaling or both.

Breathing through your mouth has only disadvantages unless it is specifically done because both nostrils have been blocked by an external device (or your fingers pinching your nose), blocked by internal substances (e.g., phlegm) or because you have been instructed to breathe in through your mouth to specifically prevent your nose being used for medical or experimental reasons.

(See below for: When is it OK to breathe through the mouth?)


Lips Together!

Keep your lips together unless you must:

  • Smile properly
  • Eat
  • Drink
  • Spit
  • Clean the internal surfaces of your mouth or teeth
  • Cough or sneeze [into your elbow or handkerchief, please]
  • Blow air out, for example, to:
    • to fill a balloon
    • to make soap bubbles
    • or play a wind instrument
  • Produce a sound with your voice system:
    • e.g., speak, shout, scream, sing, cry
  • Perform a sexual act that requires you to open your mouth

An additional benefit of mindfully following the dictum “Lips Together” is that you will tend to listen more with 2 ears and speak less with 1 mouth.

Open Mouth, Sex Appeal and Gender Stereotypes [top]

If you do 8 image searches on the internet for pairwise combinations from the following sets D and G in the order “d g” where d is from D and g is from G:

D (= description) = {“intelligent”, “serious”, “dumb”, “seductive”}

G (= gender) = {“man”, “woman”}

e.g., “intelligent woman”, “dumb man”

you will notice that (excluding teeth-showing-smiling images) the categories “seductive woman” and “dumb woman” have images with a human with their mouth open with significantly higher frequency than, say, “serious woman” or “intelligent man” or, even, “seductive man”.

For whatever reason, if women are perceived to be more visually seductive when their mouths are open (slightly) but men are perceived to be more visually seductive when their lips are firmly together AND both men and women are considered to look daft when their mouths are open, I leave it up to you to decide what you should do if you are a woman and purposely posing in a photo with your mouth slightly open. [Again, note, I am excluding the case of lips apart for a wide and happy smile.]

Why avoid breathing OUT through your mouth? [top]

Simple powerful reason: to almost eliminate the risk of breathing IN through your mouth.

If you follow the 2-word guiding rule and keep your lips together, you won’t breathe out through your mouth. If you decide to breathe out through your mouth routinely, you risk falling into a habit of breathing in through your mouth too, because of not sticking to the “Lips Together” rule during your breaths out. This simple process protocol is similar to brushing your teeth after finishing dinner early so that you reduce the likelihood that you will give in to the temptation to eat again after 3 hours. (See below for While Speaking)

The Curious Case of Bunged-Up Button [top]

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon often repeating itself that seemed odd at first observation and is likely to occur to you similarly when you do some form of cardio. You are in good health, out for a run when it is hot weather with moderate humidity i.e., neither particularly dry and not unbearably humid. Everything is flowing beautifully – the lips are together and the nose, with its passages cleared, is being used for breaths in and out. After about 8-9 Km there is, almost suddenly, too much mucus being produced in the nose and at a rate where it will flow out of the nostrils if the breath-in through the nose stops or the breath-out through the nose continues. Now, it becomes necessary to continue to breathe in through the nose as that also helps to prevent the mucus from dripping out of the nose (and becoming yummy for your tummy!). However, it becomes necessary to stop breathing out through the nose because the mucus otherwise gets stuck in a yo-yo state in no man’s land where it is being alternatingly sucked up the nasal passage but also pushed back out. The root cause of the problem is the following. There is production of mucus to humidify the air breathed in. That rate of mucus production can get very high when the air is being breathed in at many times the rate when you are at rest.

Our options are probably to:

  • Shoot out a snot rocket from each nostril every few minutes while running
  • Constantly look to wipe what drips out
  • Breathe in through the nose but out through the mouth

What you should not do is to breathe in through your mouth.

While Speaking [top]

This published study reports that in normal conversation most healthy speakers will breathe in through both their nose and mouth but not simultaneously; and, when counting numbers, breathing in through the nose and mouth often happens simultaneously. (Simple experiments on myself lead me to conclude, with reasonable confidence, that my own breath-in when speaking continues to be all nasal.)

The breath-out during speech is through the mouth, of course, as that is how we produce vocal sounds like speech and song – when air flows from your lungs through your larynx and exits from your mouth along with the sound energy it carries.

I posit that if you find your mouth dries out and you need to drink water after speaking a lot, it’s likely to be the case that you are breathing in through your mouth when speaking.

While Sleeping [top]

While sleeping, breathe both in and out through your nose. Lips Together! An open mouth, even if you do not breathe through it will dry out and increase the breeding of harmful oral bacteria. If you happen to have a cold and a blocked nose, clear the nasal passages before you lie down – use steam inhalation if simple snorting out or snorting in followed by spitting out does not work.

If anyone in your home breathes through their mouth while sleeping, please point it out to them.

Hopefully, you have already notified those who snore that they do snore! Encourage them to take steps to eliminate snoring something incredibly detrimental to their physical and mental health.

A simple and cheap technique to eliminate the mouth-open while sleeping is to simply use a fingernail-sized strip of medical tape every night in the middle of your lips and across both your lips to keep your “Lips Together”! After a few weeks, you may not need the tape and will automatically keep your lips together while sleeping.


And About Children [top]

Healthcare providers in the USA estimate that between 10%-25% of their children are mouth breathers.

I believe that anyone can change at any age but children are just that much more willing to try out something new or better in their natural drive for a better future. If you are responsible for the appropriate development of a child, remind them gently that their lips are apart when they must not be (e.g., when they are reading silently, watching a screen, or playing a game or sport). You can gently say “Lips Together!” or even just gesture with 2 fingers near your own lips and they will be grateful for the reminder.

Just like so many children who need to wear spectacles at an early age need not have had this abnormality if they did what was natural – i.e., play in bright sunlight daily, similarly, so many children would not need braces if they stuck to only nose breathing and did not eat only soft food that does not need intense chewing.


Just like we often wrongly link walking and running with subsequent health implications, similarly, it is extremely common for us to think that when we do something physically intense that we then ought to breathe in through our mouth to suck more air in with each breath. In fact, to show how extremely endemic this error in thinking is, I asked Chat GPT-3.5 the following question to see what it thinks the internet believes:

Puru: “Will I breathe in more air in a single breath if I breathe in through my mouth rather than through my nose?

Chat-GPT: “Yes, you can breathe in more air in a single breath if you breathe in through your mouth rather than through your nose. This is because the nasal passages are narrower than the mouth, which can limit the amount of air that can be taken in through the nose. Breathing in through the mouth allows for a larger volume of air to be taken in with each breath.

The only correct statement is that the nasal passages are narrower than the mouth. However, the mouth and the nose only provide passages between the outside and our lungs – they do not DO the breathing. Chat-GPT will also tell you that “When we inhale, the diaphragm and intercostal muscles contract, causing the chest cavity to expand and the lungs to fill with air.” And that is 100% correct!

It may be that the perceived effort is greater when breathing in through the nose (narrower passage, hair in nostrils) but greater effort does not mean the volume of air inhaled is less! In addition, thanks to the nitric oxide when you breathe in through your nose, there is more oxygen transfer from the air into your blood supply – the actual reason for the breath-in! So, you will get more oxygen to your working muscles if you breathe in through your nose rather than your mouth!

I specifically used the phrase “extremely endemic” when referring to the error in thinking, because, perversely enough, there exist negative health implications of breathing in through the mouth when you are exercising for the purpose of improving your health. It’s like eating cheese to burn calories by chewing! (Side note: I don’t worry about running in crazily polluted New Delhi during my short stays there – I breathe only through my nose)

Transitioning to Nose Breathing [top]

If you understand the science and want to switch over to intelligent nose breathing, it is a lot easier than you will experience initially during your first attempt at nose breathing during exercise. All you must do is be patient with yourself and fake it till you make it. Within 2-3 weeks (say 6 to 9 workout sessions) you will be nose breathing for close to 95% of the workout. Do not compromise on your quality standards for exercise technique by switching to mouth-breathing just to meet that day’s performance-target number. For example, instead of having a target pace for a run, give priority to the fraction of your run that was nose breathing. If you face an uphill struggle in life, don’t compromise on quality, just pace yourself appropriately to win the long race. When you are running up a hill, simply lower your pace and continue to do the right thing – breathe only through your nose!

When Strength Training [top]

I love my strength training sessions because of the incredibly intense mindfulness required. The policy of “Lips Together!” melds beautifully with the enhanced focus on proprioception and the extreme emotional engagement with oneself.

During an extremely heavy load repetition, with the risk of clenching – an act that increases fracture risk for all the teeth I would still like to have when I am 110 years old – comes an intense micro-focus on keeping the lips together while also avoiding the temptation to clench. Keeping the mouth open removes the clench-risk but given that there is an optimal solution, it is better we implement that. Focus on keeping your “Lips Together!” while simultaneously, very consciously, keeping your teeth apart inside a closed mouth! [top]

When Running [top]

Short Sprints – if you watch Usain Bolt run 100m you might notice that he does not take a single breath – or at least not through his mouth. Need I say more about what you should do when you sprint? [top]

Longer Distances – just like the East Africans do, run with your “Lips Together!” and do not let them part unless you need to utter a sound or take in mid-run nutrients. Keeping your body in a reduced state of stress, even when it is working hard, will produce better outcomes in each run and over your entire running life. You will not (want to) be in a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state during your runs. However, you also do not want to swing the needle early into a long run too far in the other direction i.e., the sympathetic (stressful) side of the spectrum. Delay, or eliminate, the phase of excessive cortisol (stress hormone) production by nose breathing. By nose breathing, you will find it easier to keep your mind in a state of calm even during a race. [top]

When Cycling [top]

There is nothing more unsexy on a bicycle (other than overweight middle-aged men and women in Lycra®) than the rather common sight of someone on a road bicycle with their lower jaw hanging and their mouth open. You want to be moving forward faster, but don’t let gravity take your jaw, health, athletic performance and attractiveness down.

When Swimming [top]

It does not take a whole lot of brain power to appreciate that humans were not designed by nature to swim naturally. As a survival skill, it is something that you must learn and maintain proficiency in. If you can find other ways to stay fit, my suggestion is that you use those once you have learned to swim. To be prepared for emergencies that might require you to swim, keep up a regular but low-frequency practice of swimming (e.g., on vacations). All my friends who swim and the industry that supports it will, no doubt, be up in arms with what I have just said. My simple response is:

  • We were not designed to swim; babies learn to walk even if not taught, and that does not happen with swimming
  • Swimming requires breathing out through the nose but in through the mouth (unless you do the doggy paddle)
  • More than 25% of US Olympic swimmers have URTI (upper respiratory tract infections) and the highest in any Olympic sport

Being in safe waters is always relaxing. That will be offset by all the sympathetic (stressful) state inducing mouth breathing-in that you do with conventional swimming.

Short Distances – championship swimmers will often do the entire distance in one breath up to 50m (Crickey!) – so then that’s fine, there’s no need to breathe in through the mouth. [top]

Longer Distance swimming, I would avoid. Find something else to do with your time in a pool or sea if you enjoy being in water. Or, do the doggy paddle but be mindful that you are doing this for a long distance and that the hyperextension of your neck is somewhat risky – i.e., your spine in the neck area is in a compromised position. [top]

Underwater – swimming across the breadth or length of a pool is what I do. It’s perfect for enjoying 100% water immersion, eliminating the constant change of vision from above water to underwater, having the freedom to move in all 3-dimensions with greater freedom, inducing beneficial stress with hypoxia, and avoiding breathing through the mouth! [top]

Freediving – is way better for your fitness than the mouth breathing of scuba diving or snorkelling. Please do not do it without appropriate safety precautions! [top]

Yoga and Martial Arts [top]

Yoga and martial arts originate from our basic biology and observing that of other animals, birds, and insects. So, the breath-in is correctly prescribed to be through the nose. My own preference, even when a teacher says “out through the mouth” is to ignore them and keep the breath-out also through the nose.

When is it OK to breathe IN through the mouth? [top]

When you have no choice in temporary situations like:

  • You are forced to swim in a conventional manner (e.g., front crawl, breaststroke, butterfly stroke)
  • You are unable to breathe in through your nose because you are unable to remove mucus from it for some reason

My Wim Hof Caveat [top]

I am a huge fan of Wim Hof for numerous reasons. His path-breaking work despite not having much formal education has led to significant leaps in our modern scientific understanding of the power of the breath. Indian yogis and then Chinese monks did the initial discovery and passed on their teachings for many centuries but the modern scientific method was applied in large part because Wim Hof was and is unconventional in more ways than one.

I strongly encourage you to learn what Wim Hof has spoken about in his (many free) videos and (inexpensive) books.

A caveat from me about Wim Hof’s lessons that I think is critical for you to bear in mind is that when he says, “It doesn’t matter, nose or mouth, just breathe, just breathe” he is giving topmost priority to hyperventilation over the choice of orifice. There is really no need to do that – you can and should take all your breaths, in and out, through your nose. Thank Wim Hof but thank me too 🙂

For Unusual Health Conditions [top]

I have not addressed issues like a nasal deviated septum.

I have also not delved deeply into what to do to resolve lifestyle-driven distortions to your breathing that you ought to correct e.g., snoring, sleep apnoea, chronic states of blocked nose. Get in touch, if you would like to resolve these.

Parting Message [top]

I hope you will never need to be on a ventilator just to get oxygen to your brain or body. While you have the ability to breathe yourself right now, make use of that privilege by paying mindful attention to the details of that repeated action that is so essential for your well-being. Just like you would want to eat right, move right and drink right, live better by breathing right!

If everything you do is consistent with your core beliefs and desires, then a long and healthy life of joy is pretty much guaranteed to be yours. If you want to be guided in detail, you know how to reach me, and if you found this useful, please do share it with others.



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.


  1. Breathing is a physiological marvel, yet, it’s a behaviour so automatic, that we tend to take it for granted. Thanks for sharing your knowledge on this topic. It’s incredibly informative and engaging.


  2. Very informative….
    It’s 💯 true that your nose is designed to help you breathe safely, efficiently, and properly!
    Very detailed information has been given in this article. Thank you 🙏


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