Full disclosure: I am a self-professed mouth taper.
For those of you who’ve read James Nestor’s fabulous book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, you know what I’m talking about. For the rest of you (myself included, until recently) you may be perplexed.
Here’s what it means: I tape my mouth shut at night while I sleep. Why? So that I can retrain my body to breathe through my nose — because, yeah, there’s a whole list of perks to nose breathing, which I’ve listed below. #MindBlowing
Seems weird to electively tape your mouth shut, particularly after two years of mask wearing, but I can assure you it has been worth it. My mouth is less dry and I’m not so darn thirsty during the day, I have more energy and overall I just feel more alert and better in my body. Plus, there are no more nightly trips to the bathroom! But the journey to get there? Not so fun.
As a full-time mouth breather, the transition at first felt like I was suffocating. My nose seemed plugged all the time and it was very frustrating to try and get in enough air. I also ripped off the night-time tape A LOT, and cursed the whole thing with many un-mom-like expletives. And then there was the daytime “conscious nose breath” practice— was I really expected to monitor my breath ALL DAY? It seemed that every time I checked in I had resorted back to my mouth default (especially when I was on the computer). #Frustrating.
I was convinced that my nose was defunct, and most days I just wanted to throw in the towel. Until one magical day around the three-week mark, my body and I hit our stride, and I started breathing more naturally through my nose during the day and comfortably rockin’ the tape at night.
(This is the part where I state very clearly that I am, in no way, giving medical advice or recommendations. Rather, I like to use my life as an experiment and share it with y’all. Cool? But if you’re going to try it, may I recommend 3M Nexcare Sensitive Skin Removal Medical Tape?)
Nose vs mouth: the age-old debate. For many of us, it seems moot, or at the very least interchangeable. And in some situations it is. (For example, exercise can instigate mouth breathing — you’ll see this in action if you walk up a hill. And when we have a head cold, thank the lord for our mouths!) For me, however, I have since converted to “The School of Nose,” and though Nestor’s book was a major catalyst, it really all started two years ago with the birth of my son.
I’ll never forget being in the hospital when Jagger was born. As a new mama, I was so overly concerned with everything, but particularly with the blanket covering even a fraction of his mouth: “He won’t be able to breathe!” (Granted, blankets should never cover baby’s face, but there’s a story here.) The nurse turned to me and said, “Oh, it’s okay if it covers his mouth a tiny bit. He doesn’t breathe through his mouth; he breathes through his nose.” What?!
Fact is, we all come into this world breathing in and out through our noses (baring a cold, etc.). And then, life comes in and some of us compromise our natural rhythms. For myself, the art of breathing was lost in childhood. I suffered from asthma and, afraid of not getting enough air, learned to depend solely on mouth breathing. As for my nose? To use a well-coined phrase, if you don’t use it you lose it. It became stuffy and almost impossible to breathe through due to lack of use. (I just thought that was normal, allergies and what not.) It didn’t seem that big of deal as as singer either because I was trained to breathe through my mouth. So, I didn’t miss my nose in that way. (And my smeller still worked, which is the main point, no?) But over the years, I started to notice that maybe, just maybe, there was something to this whole nose-breathing thing. Turns out, my inkling was right.
(P.S. If you’re shocked that you’re actually reading an article on “the nose,” you’re in good company; I’m just as shocked that I’m writing one.)
So what does this mean for singing?
Nose vs mouth is an eternal debate in the singing community. Some say nose, some say mouth, some say nose unless you’re singing and then it’s mouth all the way. And most every vocal coach is an absolute stickler for their method of choice as the “best” way. To me, it always seemed very “potato, patato“— “Nose? Mouth? Do what works for you,” though I tended to lean towards mouth breathing for singing, as I was trained to. But there’s of course always more to the story when you dig deeper. And now that I have dug that much deeper, here’s where I stand: nose in your everyday; mouth for singing. This is what works best for me, at least for now.
Regardless of where you stand on the nose-mouth debate, there is an overarching conversation here and that is breathing. Nestor calls it a “lost art” and I tend to agree. For the average person, monitoring the quality of their breathing does not factor highly in the day. Even in my line of work, breath doesn’t quite get the dues owed, often viewed as “skippable” if you’re in a pinch for warmup time. Logically, we know it’s a mistake to skip breathing in warmup, and yet, many of us still do it in a time crunch. Hopefully through conversations like this one we can start to change this mindset and give breath back its rightful place in vocal practice, and in our day to day life. (Many singers do understand the power of breath; here I’m referring to those of us who are still working on that.)
The benefits of a good, quality, healthy breath are exponential, and worthy of an additional article. For now, I’ll sum this post up with one key takeaway: there’s value in becoming conscious of your breath, particularly in how it serves you. Are you breathing? Or are you holding your breath? Nose or mouth? Shallow chest breaths or deep belly ones? Do you even know?
Becoming conscious of my breathing is by far the biggest gift of this whole journey. In fact, I’ve made it a higher priority in my day, and even recently attended my very first breathwork session with an official practitioner, whom I first discovered on LeAnn Rimes’ podcast, “Wholly Human.” It was AMAZING! (Her name is Ashley Neese; check her out here: https://ashleyneese.com/) You wouldn’t think that the simple act of carving out time to breathe would be life-changing (or maybe you would) but it certainly was. I felt clearer, calmer, and more centered, like a ninja, chopping through the daily to-dos with speed, grace and ease.
If it wasn’t crystal clear to me before, it is now: the magic happens when we create space. And as for the mouth taping? I’ll continue to do it. But who knows — there may come a day when I’m confident enough to go tapeless. (I’ll keep you posted.)
- Protected airways (nose filters air)
- Improved lung capacity
- Prevention of dry mouth and nasal congestion
- Optimized O2 and CO2 levels
- Improved physical and cognitive performance
- Oral health benefits (healthy gums, straight teeth)
- Reduction of snoring
- Plus, many more!