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HealthMental HealthIs mouth breathing at the root of your issues?

Rose O’Donovan didn’t set out to try and eradicate mouth breathing. The Irish is a personal trainer and Dubai resident who was focusing on female health and the specific hormonal problems women can have. She is also a master instructor with Oxygen Advantage, the breathwork training program developed by the breathing and sleep expert as well as best-selling author, Patrick McKeown. As with many of our issues, all of these phases are impacted by and...
Ann Marie McQueenAugust 10, 202214 min
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Oxygen Advantage mouth breathingRose O'Donovan teaching the Oxygen Advantage technique

Rose O’Donovan didn’t set out to try and eradicate mouth breathing. The Irish is a personal trainer and Dubai resident who was focusing on female health and the specific hormonal problems women can have. She is also a master instructor with Oxygen Advantage, the breathwork training program developed by the breathing and sleep expert as well as best-selling author, Patrick McKeown. As with many of our issues, all of these phases are impacted by and contribute to how we breathe. As she told The Livehealthy Podcast, her passion is helping people improve their physical and mental health as well as cognitive performance through proper training that makes the nervous system the priority.

How does one become so interested in breathing?

I literally just read The Oxygen Advantage book. Patrick McKeown Is the author of The Oxygen Advantage and he’s written nine books so far on breathing. Then he was running a course in Ireland. It was before a lot of his big international courses… I went three times, I went once to one of his trainers, and then I went to Patrick twice. The second time I was on their course, they asked me to become a master trainer for them.

What was wrong with your breathing?

I’m 41 and in my twenties, I overtrained and I restricted food intake and I was extremely athletic and I ended up getting a three-year amenorrhea. That basically means I lost my period for three years and I was diagnosed with early menopause, incorrectly. This was about the most horrendous thing I went through in my health and it took five years. I regained my menstrual cycle just about maybe 30 to 31 and from 30 to 35, well it took five years to recover. Then it took another five years to get physically fit and well, and I was a mouth breather at the time. I was unable to sleep, unable to regulate emotions, having night sweats.

You name it I had it. It was horrendous because  no medical doctors could give me any advice or help. When I found the technique, Oxygen Advantage and I learned about mouth breathing, it all became so much more clear. I think anyone who has anything in their family history or their own history along the lines of trauma or addiction or abuse of any sort, whether that’s physical abuse, sexual abuse, substance abuse, process addictions like food, exercise, there will be breathing problems, which over time correlate into major health issues.

It’s not as simple as ‘are we just mouth breathing and we can fix it’. That’s great, but if this has been there for years, there’s probably underlying conditions that need to be really looked at. I think it’s 200 chronic diseases that are characterized by mouth breathing so it became fascinating, but I gained so much out of like fixing my own and then being able to recognize what was going on with the people I was teaching in my profession.

How do you know you are doing it wrong?

We can breathe through our mouth for breathing techniques, but when somebody is a mouth breather, consistently sleeping with their mouth open, where you’re waking up with a dry mouth, you’re fatigued, you’re waking up exhausted, exercising intensely with your mouth open, which if you go into any regular gym or any regular fitness class you’ll see, the extended neck so the airway is in the wrong position. You have the open mouth, which causes dehydration and there’s nothing coming in through the nose. It’s extremely stressful on the body. It’s a major issue, it’s not being taught to fitness professionals.

Oxygen Advantage Rose O'Donovan
Rose O’Donovan teaching the Oxygen Advantage technique

What happens when people breathe with their mouth open? 

They’re usually extremely stressed, extremely anxious. If you’re listening and you’re thinking of like, what is a mouth breather? It’s listen to people around you and recognize it, especially if you’re working if this is part of your work or if somebody’s struggling with something you’ll notice they’re a mouth breather.

They’ll generally come across with an anxious personality or quite short-tempered or quite stressed or inability to be calm, to make good decisions.

What is the benefit of breathing through your nose?

Mouths are for eating and noses are for breathing. We have this amazing tissue in our nose and it produces nitric oxide when we breathe through our nose and nitric oxide does not, that does not get produced when we breathe through our mouth and what that does, it’s like it dilates the blood vessels and the airways. There’s hundreds of reasons, but the nose is amazing.

What about during exercise?

Most of our work should be done with our nose, but when it’s mouth breathing that we start doing the majority of our physical exercise with, we start to really interfere with the buffering process in our body of hydrogen ions so we will burn out faster, we will recover slower and we’ll put more stress. Our brain is interpreting, this is a massive stressor and it’s very hard to regulate and calm down from, and we don’t recover as well.

We don’t use the right fuel so we’ll naturally be using more glycogen, more glucose, so we’re doing more sugar burning and we’re getting more exhausted with less return.  Of course, if you’re doing a maximal effort and I train a lot physically and I train other people and I train trainers, certainly when you’re doing maximal efforts, you will eventually reach that area where you’re going to mouth-breathe.

How do you keep your mouth closed when you sleep, tape it?

Taping is a 100%, yes, you can tape, but I want people to be cautious about when we give advice to do something, we have to check. If now in Oxygen Advantage, we use something simple called a bolt test. It is subjective, but it’s quite an easy one to do. It’s a body oxygen level test. It just shows if we have functional or dysfunctional breathing by the score.

If your breathing is okay, then yes, you can tape at night. If your bolt is low. For example, your breathing rate is very high and you know that you’re breathing more than you should. It’s called over-breathing, where we’re taking more breaths per minutes than we should be. You feel like you’re breathing a lot or you’re stressed or anxious, then we would need to work on slowing down the breath rate and the ventilation in that person’s body before taping at nighttime.

How can we start to incorporate this into our day?

If you open your phone and you simply put on your timer and make sure you put it on airplane mode so you can’t be disturbed and you put your timer on and you sit like in an upright posture where you get your ribs nice and stacked over your pelvis.

You make sure your head is back. You look at your timer and you inhale for count of four seconds. You exhale slowly for account of five or six seconds. You do that for maybe five to 10 minutes, and you’ll start to feel so much calmer.

What you’ve also done is taking your breathing rate down to five or six breaths per minute, which is a proper ventilation rate for your body. This will stimulate your vagus nerve, which is absolutely amazing for your nervous system and calming you down. Life just feels easier after that five minutes. That five minutes can easily lead me or you or anyone else to just making a better decision and feeling it’s really not that stressful, whatever it is.

• Rose O’Donovan is holding an Oxygen Advantage Master Class in Dubai at 11am on August 14, 2022. Visit her website for contact details or Instagram for more information. To listen to the full episode, go here

Ann Marie McQueen

Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.

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