Most of the time breathing just happens.
In & Out ... an average of 22,000 times per day. (lung.ca)
Breathing is one of those amazing things that can be controlled automatically by the autonomic nervous system OR it can be controlled by you voluntarily.
For this post we are going to focus on a breathing exercise that can have a profound effect on your nervous system.
This is something that Yogis have know forever, but science and research are only just catching on to.
The research is showing that specific breath patterns through your nose can effect your nervous system & body in amazing ways.
a little background anatomy ...
Just so you are better able to follow along when I get further into how the breathing exercise affects your body, I feel I need to give you a little background .... it's short I promise.
Your autonomic nervous system has 2 parts ... the sympathetic - fight or flight - triggers an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate ... and the parasympathetic - rest and digest - which triggers a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate.
Most parts of your body have nerve fibres for both the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts of your nervous system ... including your nose.
And a large number of us are running around with our sympathetic nervous systems firing like crazy!
I was actually blown away by the number of research studies that I was able to find on the effects of left nostril breathing on general health and the nervous system.
And guess what ... my research supported what I was taught about moon breath!
the yogis know ...
In yoga teachings, when you breathe in through a nostril the qualities of that side will be activated and when you breathe out the through a nostril the qualities will be sedated.
The left nostril being connected to the lunar energy channel, brings cooling and nourishing energy ...and the right nostril being connected to the solar energy channel, brings warmth and fire energy.
There are actually 3 breathing exercises you can use to embrace these energies ... Moon breath or left nostril breathing, Sun breath or right nostril breathing and alternate nostril breathing (which we well learn about in the next post).
Although there is a time and a place for sun breath, my research actually focused on moon breath because what I see most in the clinic is people whose nervous systems that are stressed and just need to be soothed.
With Moon Breath ... you focus your inhale through the left nostril and your exhale though the right.
When you have left nostril dominance you generally feel more restful; locomotion activity decreases; heart rate decreases; blood pressure decreases; respiration rate decreases; and body temp decreases. Your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system is activated and the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system is sedated.
From the yogi perspective ... moon breath is very nourishing and calming, and will sooth your nervous system. It is helpful before bed if you have trouble sleeping; if you need to physically cool your body (like if you are blessed with hot flashes); and when dealing with stress, jittery or anxious feelings or when you just need to calm an overactive mind.
Out of all of the breathing exercises that I have learned, I find that what I need most is moon breath ... and I use this exercise regularly throughout the day when I am feeling stressed or anxious and my nervous system needs a little help to calm down.
So my challenge for you ...
Give Moon Breath a try ... observe what you feel immediately and in the time after practicing.
Start with 22 breath cycles - inhale + exhale = one.
Counting like this ......... Inhale, exhale, one .... inhale, exhale, two .... inhale, exhale, three ....
or counting off beads on your mala or meditation bracelet (find the special bead, count off 22 beads and then with each breath cycle move backward towards the special one)
Aim to try this breathing every day for at least 2 week ( just to give it a fair shot) and see how you feel. Most of the research studies allowed for 6 weeks of practice before reassessing.
Regular practice will help your brain and body learn the exercise and the effect so that when you need it in an emergency or stress crisis you aren't trying to learn it on the spot.
So pick a quiet place and time of day when you can consistently practice.
And Just Breathe.
PS. For more breathing exercises click here.
For guided meditations click here.
Stay tuned for information on the benefits of alternate nostril breathing.
Brien-anne RMT, CA
I am passionate not only about Massage Therapy & Aromatherapy, but also living a holistic lifestyle and empowering & inspiring others to do the same!