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Published on November 09, 2021

illustration of nose breathing in words

Use Your Breath (and Nose) to Harness Inner Power

Specialized tissue inside your nose is running a vast network of nerves, tiny connections that lead to completion of thousands of actions. When we breathe, we’re engaging that system, known as the autonomic nervous system. When we breathe carefully and with more with our nose, we can really super-charge the way this system works.

What the System Does

The autonomic nervous system regulates all those “background” parts of our bodily function we take for granted. It’s setting our internal thermostat as it adjusts temperature. The system is also making blood pressure and blood flow changes. It runs digestion and affects our focus, moods, emotions and even our sleep.

Specialized tissues in each nostril connect directly with this system. Some of the things that happen are amazing:

  • The right nostril activates the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, which is our fight-or-flight response.
  • The left nostril tissue stimulates a feedback to the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, the one that affects our desire to rest or digest.

When we understand these hidden systems, we can make adjustments.

Deeper Breaths for Better Health

When we take quick, shallower breaths, that sympathetic nervous system connected to the upper lung kicks in and can lead us to feel the nervous energy that goes with those fight-or-flight feelings.

When we take deep breaths, we’re hitting the parasympathetic branch of the system instead. Breathing techniques we can learn help optimize lung capacity, which not only leads to relaxing feelings in the short term, over time it contributes to better health and longevity.

Tips for Better Breathing

If you’re ready to put these ideas to use, you can use the following tips to start.

  • Be mindful when you breathe, and do so through your nose as much as possible.
  • Learn to exhale slowly, which will slow your breathing.
  • Take extra time to chew your food and remind yourself before you snack or sit for a meal.

You should make efforts to breathe mainly through the nose, and there are methods that can help people who use their mouths in breath to make the switch.

Practicing Slowed-Down Breathing is Easy

Slower breathing patterns are associated with peak efficient and coordinated function of many systems in our bodies, including the circulatory and nervous systems. Practicing a slowed breathing pattern is easy.

  • Starting with an inhale that lasts 3-5 seconds; try to make your exhales last 5-10 seconds.
  • Remember the “perfect” breath is equally balanced – with about 5½ seconds for inhaling and exhaling.
  • Set aside five minutes every day to practice.
  • Do that for a week, and then set a goal of daily 10-minute slow breathing sessions.

Doing so can lead to healing states of coherence for your body’s systems.

You can add to your routine at meal and snack times with a focus on mindful eating. To do so, make sure you chew each bite 10-30 times before swallowing. You’ll be surprised how much it helps digestion as well as relaxation.

It’s easy to overlook the superpowers found in our nose and the way our breath brings them to life. But when we slow down and closely consider the facts, some ancient, some recently reproved in medical science, we can boost our health and feel better.

This is the second part of a pair of stories on the power of breath and the superpowers of the nose. Read the first story.

Dawn Flickema, MD, is a physician with Avera Medical Group Integrative Medicine.

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