We all need to chill. Those who meditate have the chill thing solved. For the rest of us who wish we meditated but never seem to make the time, there is a simpler way to achieve some relaxation and stress-reduction – active breathing. Active breathing is sometimes known as yoga breathing.
Active breathing – which is simply being mindful about your inhalation, exhalation and breathing through your nose – initiates the relaxation response, just as meditation does. Active breathing reduces stress, anxiety, the fight or flight response and nervous tension. This in turn reduces stress-induced body inflammation, which,, when left to its own devices, can cause a whole host of other medical issues. Breathing in and out through our nose helps us take fuller, deeper breaths, which triggers a calming effect.
Active breathing is nose breathing. It helps to be seated, with your feet flat on the ground. Eyes can be open or closed. Breathe in through your nose deeply and slowly. Exhale through your nose. Nose breathing has many more benefits than mouth breathing. If you get in the habit during the day it tends to carry over into the night when you sleep. Nose breathing has been shown to:
- Drive oxygen more efficiently into the lower lung lobes rather than staying in the upper lobes.
- Lower heart rate and breath rate.
- Reduce anxiety and snoring.
- Activate the full rib cage, which in turn is good for optimal flexibility and elasticity of the head, neck, low back, and spine.
- Increase circulation, blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
- Increase lung volume – it is important to keep our lungs at the highest intake volume we can.
Let’s take it a step further to single nostril breathing. Did you know that each nostril functions independently and reports to different sides of the brain? Many Yogis believe that at any given moment we are either right or left nostril dominant. I tried the test to see if I had a dominant side (closing each nostril and breathing in and out) but couldn’t discern any difference between the two. I am clearly out of touch with my nose. Yogis believe that if the right nostril is more open and smooth then we are driven by the nervous system, meaning that we are more energetic and active. If the left nostril is dominant then we are relaxed and calm. Nostril dominance changes every 20 minutes or so during the day.
Single nostril breathing is reported to change how you are feeling. Breathing through your left nostril is thought to increase spatial memory. If you’ve lost your car keys and can’t remember where you left them, try inhaling through your left nostril, which puts you in a more restful but alert state of mind. Close your right nostril with the fleshy side of your thumb and inhale and exhale through your left nostril up to 27 times. Repeat up to four times daily.
Right nostril breathing reportedly has a brain-sharpening effect. In a 2012 study, men who breathed through the right nostril became more attentive. The prescription is the same as left nostril breathing – close left nostril, inhale and exhale 27 times and repeat up to four times a day.
Have fun experimenting!