Written by Anders Olsson, founder of the Conscious Breathing Retraining Program

George Catlin, born in Pennsylvania 1796, started his career as a lawyer, a job of which he was not particularly fond. His dream was to paint. Catlin loved people, their faces, and to paint faces expressing feelings. His live was changed forever when he met a delegation of about fifteen Native Americans from several tribes who were passing through Philadelphia on their way to Washington D.C.

Catlin was fascinated by the Indians and their looks and culture. Within just a few days, he decided to make it his life mission to paint and document the Indians and their culture and history. What Catlin has left behind is nothing less than a unique insight into how the Native Americans lived. His testimony also carries with it the fundamental key to what true health is based upon.

We “modern, civilized” people have a LOT to learn by studying how the “savages” lived and the exceptional health they had. Despite lack of modern comforts. Catlin visited 150 Indian tribes with over two million inhabitants Between 1830 and 1860, Catlin visited more than 150 Native American tribes in the North, Central,
and South America. In total, these tribes had more than two million members.

The Indians had fantastic health Catlin noted that those Indian tribes that had not been influenced by the western lifestyle had zero infant mortality. Moreover, there were no deformities in their children, and no child deaths from disease. Whereas records of mortality for Europe during the 1850s show that around one in four children died at birth, and only one in four survived beyond 25 years of age.

Breathing is the cardinal difference An important clue to Catlin’s great health discovery can be found in his own personal life. Catlin’s wife and one of his children died of pneumonia. In pneumonia, breathing is likely to be shallow, rapid, and in and out through the mouth. Shallow breathing prevents the air from reaching the bottom of the lungs. This creates a fertile environment for bacterial growth and the result could be pneumonia. Catlin himself had suffered the consequences of this, having since childhood developed the habit of breathing through his mouth.

Catlin noted that all the Indian tribes he met breathed through their nose both day and night, whereas white people, to a large extent, were mouth breathers. According to Catlin, the method of breathing was the cardinal difference between the Native American’s strong and healthy population compared to the “civilized” man with his deteriorated health and short lifespan.

“I am compelled to believe, and feel authorized to assert, that a great proportion of the diseases prematurely fatal to human life, as well as mental and physical deformities, and destruction of the teeth, are caused by the abuse of the lungs, in the Mal-respiration of Sleep: and also, that the pernicious habit, though contracted in infancy or childhood, or manhood, may generally be corrected by a steady and determined perseverance, based upon a conviction of its baneful and fatal results.“
Shut your mouth When Catlin closed his mouth and started to breathe through his nose, his health returned in full force. Based on his experiences, George Catlin wrote the book ”Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life” in 1870.

Closed mouth during sleep If they are not changed, most habits that are against nature will lead to symptoms and diseases. Sleeping with an open mouth is far from natural. There is no other animal, apart from humans, that sleeps with an open mouth. Mouth breathing at rest relentlessly means that we are hyperventilating, which leads to oxygen deficiency. During sleep, a deficiency in oxygen will cause us to sleep less deeply, which will compromise our ability to heal and repair our body.
“If man’s unconscious existence for nearly one-third of the hours of his breathing life depends, from one moment to another, upon the air that passes through his nostrils; and his repose during those hours, and his bodily health and enjoyment between them, depend upon the soothed and tempered character of the currents that are passed through his nose to his lungs, how mysteriously intricate in its construction and important in its functions is that feature, and how disastrous may be the omission in education which sanctions a departure from the full and natural use of this wise arrangement!”

Fine teeth and beautiful faces As a pioneering anthropologist, and a painter with a skilled eye and a great interest in details, Catlin recorded his observations of the Native American’s physical characteristics. Like so many other early observers, Catlin was struck by the beauty of their teeth. “These people, who talk little and sleep naturally, have no dentists nor dentifrice, nor do they require either; their teeth almost invariably rise from the gums and arrange themselves as regular as the keys of a piano; and without decay or aches, preserve their soundness and enamel, and powers of mastication.”

Catlin was convinced that the habit of sleeping with their mouths closed contributed to the development of the Native Americans’ fine teeth and beautiful faces. “An Indian child is not allowed to sleep with its mouth open, from the very first sleep of its existence; the consequence of which is, that while the teeth are forming and making their first appearance, they meet (and constantly feel) each other; and taking their relative, natural, positions, form that beautiful and pleasing regularity which has secured to the American Indians, as a race, perhaps the most manly and beautiful mouths in the world.“

The first years of existence are the most important An infant sleeps two thirds of its life. In order to give a child the best possible start in life, it is important to make sure from the first day of its existence that its mouth is closed when sleeping. “I, who have seen some thousands of Indian women giving the breast to their infants, never saw an Indian mother withdrawing the nipple from the mouth of a young infant, without carefully closing its lips with her fingers. I was soon made to understand, both by their women and their Medicine Men that it was done ‘to insure their good looks, and prolong their lives.’ It is to Mothers, and truly not to physicians or medicines, that the world are to look, for the remedy of this evil (of mouth breathing); and the physical improvements of mankind, and the prolongation of human existence, effected by it.“

The child shall not be too hot As with sheep, when a lamb is born outdoors in the spring, an infant is able to breathe the fresh and cold outdoor air. An infant has a very high metabolism and a special kind of fat, brown fat, which makes it much easier for them to keep warm compared to adults. Children get too hot when they sleep inside in bedrooms that are too hot, or have too many clothes, or sleep in their parent’s bed and get exposed to their body heat. The risk here is that the child will open its mouth to breathe more and expel some of the heat through exhalation. It is similar to when a dog pants (over-breathes) after physical activity because it does not have the ability to sweat.

“The Savage Mother, instead of embracing her infant in her sleeping hours, in the heated exhalation of her body, places it at her arm’s length from her, and compels it to breathe the fresh air, the coldness of which generally prompts it to shut the mouth, in default of which, she presses its lips together in the manner that has been stated, until she fixes the habit which is to last it through life; and the contrast to this, which is too often practiced by mothers in the Civilized world, in the mistaken belief that warmth is the essential thing for their darling babes, I believe to be the innocent foundation of the principal, and as yet unexplained, cause of the deadly diseases so frightfully swelling the Bills of Mortality in Civilized communities.“

Heredity versus environment Many of us believe that our heritage is causing our health problems – “I have high blood pressure, but since it runs in my family, there is nothing I can do to lower it other than taking medicine.”

Blaming our heritage and our genes is a perfect argument for:
– The health care system when they cannot explain the cause of the illness
– Big corporations wanting to sell medication that alleviates symptoms, but do nothing about the cause, and
– The individual who does not consider him/herself to have the time or the desire to take responsibility for their health.

My belief is that it is learned behaviors, mainly during the first 5-6 years of our lives, which have the biggest impact on our health. Catlin, with his unique insight into two widely different cultures with dramatic differences in health, shares this view; “No diseases are natural, and deformities, mental and physical, are neither hereditary nor natural, but purely the result of accidents or habits. Amongst two millions of these wild people whom I have visited, I never saw or heard of a hunchback (crooked spine), though my inquiries were made in every tribe; nor did I ever see an idiot or lunatic amongst them, though I heard of some three or four, during my travels, and perhaps of as many deaf and dumb.”

Amongst the Indian tribes that had begun to adopt Western habits their health deteriorated more and more. “Since our husbands have taken to drink so much whiskey our babies are not so strong, and the greater portion of them die; we cannot keep them alive.”

In the 1930s, the dentist Weston Price visited many primitive and isolated cultures around the world, such as the Eskimos, Native American Indians, Aborigines, and the Maoris. Price confirms Catlins’ viewpoint, since he found that a changed lifestyle had a dramatic impact on the development of the teeth and the face. In many of these cultures, every elderly member of the population had a normal shaped upper jaw. The children of these individuals, however, showed a much higher percentage of defective palates and upper jaws. In conclusion, the facial changes should be attributed to the lifestyle changes, not the heritage.

In conclusion Upon returning from his last voyage in 1860, at the age of 64, Catlin wrote “If I were to endeavor to bequeath to posterity the most important motto which human language can convey, it should be in three words — Shut your Mouth.”
© 2014 About the author: Anders Olsson inspires people to improve their breathing habits through courses in Conscious Breathing (based on among others, yoga, chigong and the Buteyko method).

Keywords; Caitlin, sleep, breathing, teeth, Indian tribes,  Buteyko

For more information and a Swedish version of this article go to http://www.consciousbreathing.com/