You Can Change How You Feel (By Using Your Nostrils)

You Can Change How You Feel (By Using Your Nostrils)

Like pretty much everything else in life, our breath moves in cycles.

You’re familiar with the inhale-exhale cycle that’s always going on, but did you know your breath also moves in a cycle between your left and right nostrils?

The Ol’ Schnoz Switcheroo

About every two hours or so, your breath switches from mostly flowing through one side of your nose to the other. Although the exact length of this cycle is different for each person, it’s always happening.

You’ll probably find that as you’re reading this, you’re probably mostly breathing through either your left or right nostril. (I’m mostly breathing through my left as I’m writing this.) And whichever nostril is dominant has an influence on how you feel.

You can figure out which side is getting more flow by blocking one while breathing through the other, and then doing the same for the opposite side. Whichever one is easier to breathe through is the dominant nostril at that moment. Unless you’re congested, you’ll probably find you can still breathe through the other nostril, but the air doesn’t flow quite as freely.

Your Nose is Full of Surprises

Why does this happen? Well, it’s actually not as boring as you might imagine.

You probably already know that some parts of your body have erectile tissue, but did you know that there’s also erectile tissue inside your nose?!

When these tissues fill up on one side, they block one side of your nose; while relaxing on the other side, allowing your breath to flow through more easily.

Okay, that’s weird and kind of interesting, but so what?

How You Breathe and How You Feel

Each side activates a different aspect of your nervous system. Whichever side you’re breathing through, it brings you more into one way of being or the other.

When you’re breathing mostly through your right nostril you’re generally in a more active state. Your heart rate increases. Your blood pressure increases. Your rate of breathing increases. Your body temperature increases. Your cortisol increases. Your endorphins increase.

Basically, when your right nostril is dominant you feel more awake and amped up.

When you’re breathing mostly through your left nostril you’re generally in a more restful state. Your heart rate decreases. Your blood pressure decreases. Your rate of breathing decreases. Your body temperature decreases. Your cortisol decreases. Your endorphins decrease.

So, when your left nostril is dominant, you feel more relaxed and mellow.

And here is so much scientific evidence about it, (in case you think I’m full of hot air).

One Way to Balance It Out

What’s really magical about this cycle is that unlike most of the other systems in your body, you can consciously affect it to change how you feel.

Here’s a simple exercise you can do that redirects your breath through your nostrils. By consciously moving the breath through each nostril, you can change how your feel.

Note: If either of your nostrils is really blocked, so that it’s difficult to get any breath through, don’t do the following exercise. If you have to force it, it’s better to wait for another time when your nose is clearer.

Also, if you feel uncomfortable for any reason while doing this, just stop and go back to your normal breathing. The point of this is to help you feel more centered and balanced, not to give you something to feel stressed about.

So, enjoy trying this breathing exercise. Do it for a few rounds, and not for more than three minutes on your first time trying it. And if at any point you’re not enjoying it—just don’t do it!

When you want to feel balanced

(For a text-only version of this image, click here)

…Wait, Which Side Was I On?

Another way to think about the breathing rhythm for this exercise is that you always inhale through the same side that you exhaled from, and you’ll always change sides to inhale. 

And if at any point you lose track of which side you were supposed to be inhaling or exhaling through, it’s okay! It’s actually pretty easy to lose track, so don’t worry about it. You’ll get the hang of the rhythm with more practice. Just start again and keep going.

So, What Does This Actually Do?

By alternating which nostril you breathe through, you bring balance to the flow of breath into your body. It’s been found to calm the nervous system in scientific studies, and it’s been known by spiritual practitioners to be one of the most effective tools to calm the emotions.

This exercise has also been scientifically found to improve focus. You’ll need to focus to do this exercise. It doesn’t take much, but you need to stay focused on it or else you’ll lose track of which side you’re on. Plus, getting a little more oxygen in your brain this way helps your mind to work more effectively.

It also improves your quality of breathing overall. By breathing consciously, you connect with your breath in a deeper way. You breathe more deeply, bringing in more oxygen. And it is an “exercise”, so by doing it you start to condition your lungs for better breathing all the time.

So, it helps you to feel calmer, more focused and breathe more easily. Those are some pretty impressive benefits for something you can do in a minute.

(The Secret is Attention)

Okay, I’m going to let you in on one of the big secrets of how this works. Breathing through different nostrils doesn’t only move your breath in a different way—it also moves your attention in a different way. By focusing your attention on how you’re breathing and keeping your mind busy with the breathing pattern, you’re automatically not focusing as much on other stuff.

It’s not just breathing in a different way, it’s using your mind in a way that gives you a break from your usual thought patterns, so you feel calmer and more focused.

Your Breath is Yours, and It’s Always Free

So first of all, I want to emphasize that this is a totally free thing that you can do anytime. You don’t need any special equipment, you don’t need special breathing exercise clothes, there is nothing you need to buy—your breath is yours and you can always work with it for free.

Also, you can do this pretty much anywhere. It’s ideal if you can do it when you’re seated somewhere quiet, but you don’t need to wait for some perfect peaceful moment to try it.

Try it right now for one minute! One minute is not really so much time at all, you can totally do it now. Then you’ll start getting the hang of it and can do it whenever you have an extra minute.

You can do it while you’re waiting in line somewhere, while you’re on the bus, or maybe when you just have a couple minutes to fill and you would normally look at your phone—you can do this for a minute or two. But don’t do it if you are driving a car or operating heavy machinery or doing something else that requires your full attention, but for a situation where you have an extra minute or two with no responsibilities, it’s perfect.

Send us a note saying how it’s going for you. Or if you have any questions about your experience with it, feel free to ask, and we’ll get back to you.

Thanks for reading! Give it a try! And if you think this is interesting, please go ahead and share it with a friend who might also be into it.

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