The Nasal Cycle
What is the nasal cycle?
There is an alternating shift of air moving through the nostrils. About every 2 hours, one nostril is more open than the other. When the right side is more open, the increased airflow on the right side stimulates the left side of the brain. When the left nostril is more open, the right side of the brain is stimulated. So, our breathing pattern regulates and alternates stimulation of the right and left sides of the brain.
A study from Northwestern University in December of 2016 dissected exactly where and how nasal breathing impacts the brain. Breathing through the nose stimulates the olfactory cortex (smell), the amygdala (emotions) and the hippocampus (memory) - all part of the limbic system.
Inhalation allowed subjects to more quickly recognize fearful faces. On exhalation, recognition and memory recall was reduced and mouth breathing reduced the ability to recognize and recall even further. Our innate response to fear is to have faster breathing where we breathe more rapidly and inhale more. This is likely to be a positive thing for our brains to more rapidly respond to dangerous stimuli.
Breathing through both nostrils and having a regulated cycle increases the parasympathetic tone of the nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system helps us manage danger, stress and pain. A toned parasympathetic nervous system improves mood and focus. It creates muscle relaxation, decreases the respiratory rate, and lowers blood pressure. Breathing through the right nostril only will stimulate the sympathetic nervous system more and breathing through the left nostril only will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system more.
Alternate nostril breathing - a yoga breath practice - is an example of focused breathing. This purposeful alternating of nostril breathing helps to synchronize brain waves in the smell cortex and amygdala and hippocampus leading to a more balanced nervous system.
Follow your nose!
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