Breathe 📚

In the last few months I’ve made a small but radical change: I breathe through my nose. For those of you who have always been nose breathers this probably doesn’t sound like a big deal. I have been a mouth breather for as long as I can remember. Other than knowing that I was a “mouth breather,” it never really bothered me. I broke my nose a couple of times in high school and even had surgery. Breathing through my nose just seemed like something that wasn’t in the cards for me. Then I read the book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor.

Before reading this book, only one person had ever suggested that I need to nose breathe. He was my dentist in Taiwan and he spent 10 minutes at the end of one of my checkups telling me how I could practice nose breathing and how it would help me. I was just glad to not get lectured on flossing. I tried a few of the exercises he mentioned, but they were hard and I didn’t keep at it.

I’ve always been chronically stuffy. Spring is allergy season for me and in years past I just expected to have 3-4 months of total nasal blockage. I also got frequent ear infections because my sinuses were so blocked up. It was terrible, but usually improved over the summer. Dry winter air clogged things up again.

Snoring has also been a problem for me. I snore like a Mack truck. It’s loud. I’ve tried breath-rite strips, funky headbands, special pillows, and other uncomfortable things I can’t recall but which did not work. I just assumed that wall shaking snores were my lot in life. (Did I mention I broke my nose? That must be why! Nothing I can do about it, right?)

Breath opened my eyes to how important it is to breathe the right way. (To be clear, breathing the right way means breathing through your nose.) I’ve been working on consciously nose breathing for the last four months. At first it was a constant battle to both catch when I switched to mouth breathing and then to focus on nose breathing long enough to get into a pattern. Over the first month I was pretty sure it would never become a firm habit, but I kept at it because I started to feel better.

At night, I started taping my mouth shut. The first couple of nights were uncomfortable and I ripped the tape off after a few hours. But starting the third night something amazing happened: I slept great. I woke up refreshed. My snoring was reduced from wall shaking to just mildly annoying. On nights when I forget or am just too lazy to get the tape (I use a strip of 3M clear surgical tape about 1.25 inches long), I can tell a big difference in the morning. My mouth is dry, my nose is clogged, and my breath is really bad. On nights I use the tape I have none of those problems. The only hard part is getting the adhesive out of my mustache.

After a few months of effort, nose breathing has become a habit. I’m not good at forming good health habits. For me this is a big deal. Here are some of the effects I’ve seen:

  • Better sleep, both subjectively and as tracked by my Apple Watch
  • Lower resting heart rate
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved stamina

Of course it’s hard to pinpoint which lifestyle changes lead to which effects. I wasn’t doing this in a lab. But since I’ve made correct breathing a priority I’ve seen some other improvements like more success in intermittent fasting and better results with Wim Hof Method practice. It’s possible that one of those things was the root cause of the positive changes, but I’ve tried to have a consistent IF practice for a few years and have never done well. The last four months have been great, both in terms of compliance and in terms of results.

Check out Breath. It’s a quick read, very entertaining, and it will give you the building blocks you need to improve your breathing.

Better breathing is free, but it’s had a huge positive effect for me.

Make Sleep Your Superpower

We all know we need it, but it’s so easy to have a bad relationship with sleep. We’ve all decided to stay up late or get up early. Life is hectic and sometimes it feels like sleep is the easiest block of time to compromise with. Don’t do it!

If you have the Calm app there’s an excellent session by LeBron James called “The Power of Sleep” in the Train Your Mind course. I think I learned more from listening to LeBron talk about how vital sleep is than from anyone else.

Unfortunately that’s gated content so not everyone will be able to listen to it. Here are some interesting articles I recently read that might be helpful as well. If you get into them you’ll see the common theme: all humans need eight or more hours of sleep to optimally function.

The things that have helped me most are getting to bed before 10 pm each night, no screens for an hour before bed, and reading a novel for a few minutes before I fall asleep.

How Intermittent Fasting Has Helped My Relationship With Food

Back in November I ran across an excellent article on Medium about How to Configure Your iPhone to Work for You, Not Against You. I loved it, and spent the better part of an evening implementing many of the recommendations on my phone. There were several recommended apps that I had never heard of that I set off to explore, including one called ‎Zero - Fasting Tracker. I downloaded it and started to do some research on Intermittent Fasting, the practice the app helps you track.

The What of Intermittent Fasting

I was raised in a household that practiced dry fasting one day per month, so I’m not a stranger to fasting, though it was also one of the things I hated most and tried my hardest to dodge. (Which is hilarious because my kids now try the same things to get out of it that I tried for all of my childhood. As if they could play a player! 😂)

Intermittent Fasting (or IF) is different than the fasting I had experience with. While there are a number of variations, the principle is simple: don’t take in calories for a certain number of hours between dinner and your next meal. Drinking water or drinks with no calories is fine, but eating is not. I use the 16:8 IF variation, with a 16 hour fast and an eight hour window for eating.

This isn’t really a diet since you can eat whatever you want during the time you’re not fasting. This is one of the things that appealed to me most—it’s dead simple. Don’t eat when you’re fasting, and eat when it’s time to eat. No restrictions, no food logging. Easy as pie 🍰.

How IF has helped me

I wouldn’t say I have a bad relationship with food, but it’s definitely complicated. Guilt around eating is a very real thing for me. IF has helped.

The first immediate change I noticed was that I stopped snacking. After the first two days, which were hard, I stopped eating anything between meals. (The routine I have been following is fasting from after dinner, usually starting at 6 pm, until at least 10 am. The eating window starts then and ends at 6 pm.) I eat a good lunch, have a nice dinner with my family, and don’t really eat anything in between. It’s not that I’m trying not to snack; it just hasn’t happened. This is a big change for me.

I have been able to use IF as a trigger for new habits. When I get hungry in the morning I make a cup of herbal tea or fizzy water. This helps tide me over until lunch and is a great time to do a mindful activity. I started writing in my journal during this morning tea time, another habit I’ve tried and failed to be consistent at in the past. Being more mindful isn’t a strictly physical benefit of IF, but it’s had a very real effect for me.

There have been some good physical changes as well. I have lost some weight. Nothing dramatic, but enough that it’s about time to go buy some new pants. My skin is clearer than it’s been in years. I have more energy, particularly in the afternoon. (I haven’t had a post-lunch lull since I started with IF.)

I also feel particularly clear headed and sharp in the mornings. I’m a morning person and tend to get all of my most important tasks for the day done before 10 am. This was actually my main concern before starting IF—if I’m tearing-my-hair-out hungry during my most productive time of the day then the quality of my work will be in the toilet. The exact opposite has happened. I am able to focus and power through tasks in the morning, which makes the rest of the day much better.

Resources on IF

Here are a few of articles and videos I found helpful in learning and practicing IF: