Benefits of Nostril Yoga Breathing

Breathing is a crucial element in Yoga whether one is doing Yoga poses (asanas) or just meditating. There are wide variations in breathing styles, rhythms, and structures. These variations all come into one basic purpose – to generate greater connection to energy flow, to manipulate the presence and function of prana (life-force energy), and to enable a stronger foundation of internal balance (mind, body, and spirit).

The variations of breathing patterns and styles can often be daunding and overwhelming to new participants to Yoga. However, often the more simple breathing forms can provide the greatest rewards and benefits. As one of the simpliest forms of breathing, basic nostril breathing yields a wealth of benefits.

  • By breathing through the nostrils, the inhaled air becomes moistened by the nasal passages. The nasal passages have light coatings of moisture and mucous that is picked up by the passing air. This moistened air is, then, better received by the tissues of the bronchial passages and lungs.
  • When we inhale through the nostrils, the air has more passages to pass through than by inhaling through the mouth. This extra time flowing through airway passages warms the air. Again, this nasal flow prepares the air better for the lungs.
  • The nose contains a lining of hairs. These hairs assist in removing air borne particles and other forergn matter that may be undesirable for the lungs. This filtering acts as a secondary support system to the cilia (micro hair-like projections) in the bronchial passages that gently propel mucous and air particles out of the airways.
  • When we exhale out of the nose, we retain the warmth of the breath. Inhaled air is greatly warmed in the lungs. During our Yoga practice, we want to conserve this heat energy so it can be transferred into the muscles and tissues. When we exhale through the nose, the heat in the air is transferred to the walls of the nasal passages rather than being lost. This heat then can move into the blood vessels and circulate back into the body.
  • Breathing through the nose can aid in developing a slower, more focused breath. By elongating the breath, we can establish a more profound inner gaze and meditative state whether we are doing Yoga postures, lying in relaxation (savasana), or enjoying time in meditation.

    By starting with basic nostril breathing, we can build a powerful foundation to our practice. Through this simple breathing, we understand the benefits of breathing and develop an appreciation for more advanced breathing practices (pranayama). At the beginning of your practice, avoid rushing into flows. Embrace the time to establish your breath first. Feel the texture of the breath moving through the nose and passages. Experience the sense of connection, presence, and focus that nostril breathing provides.

Can Poor Head Posture Affect Your Sleep?

Many people experience problems with acquiring proper, restful sleep.  We often associate this with direct causes like stress, anxiety, or diet.  Have you ever thought about your overall daily posture and, in particular, your head position being part of the reason for poor sleep habits?  Many chronic health symptoms we experience can actually be indirect results of maladies originating in seemingly unrelated areas of the body.

How poor head posture can adversely affect your sleep. 

As a society that shifts more and more into the classic seated chair posture, many people become unaware of the poor alignment that often sets in with the head and neck.  From a gravitational perspective, the head (and its’ weight) is meant to sit OVER the spine so the upper vertebra can take the load of the skull.

Common poor posture sets in for most where the head draws forward of the spinal lines.  This places chronic tension on the entire neck – the rear aspect of neck tissues become tense and over-elongated – the neck curvature dissolves losing its’ ability to take skull loading – the front neck muscles also become undesirably strengthened – overall, a great imbalance of loading and muscle tension develops.  Result?  Neck pain!

The other common side effect of head forward posture is we tend to shift into ‘mouth breathing’ over nostril breathing.  The combination of neck pain and mouth breathing has a direct affect on overall breathing.  Chronic pain as well as mouth breathing inhibits lower lung (diaphragm) breathing.  Inefficient breathing mechanics sets in where breathing is localized in the upper lungs (called apical breathing).

Apical breathing has a cascading effect – we start to breath more rapid and shallow.  This breath pattern increases our exhalation rate and thus the venting off of carbon dioxide (CO2).  CO2, when in the blood, exists primarily as an acid – if we vent off too much of CO2 (hence the ‘acid’), our blood pH moves into a more alkaline state.

Our hemoglobins’ ability to deliver oxygen to our tissues is enhanced in an acidic environment (at the tissue level) – this is called the Bohr Effect.  When our system becomes more alkaline (due to the increased venting of CO2), oxygen delivery by the hemoglobin is inhibited.  With less oxygen available to cell tissues, the tissues shift from an efficient aerobic respiration to more anaerobic respiration.

Anaerobic respiration has been shown to increase the production and circulation of cortisol, a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland.  Cortisol is typically produced in states of stress.  The general function and effects of cortisol are increased blood sugar (through gluconeogenesis), suppression of the immune system, and increased fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism.

With the body mimicking a ‘fight or flight’ state, another effect of cortisol production is the disruption of healthy sleep patterns.  With the body encountering poor sleep, the nervous system remains in a state of arousal as well fatigue tends to cause one to fall deeper in poor posture habits.  Result?  The cycle feedbacks on to itself causing sustained apical breathing and the cascading effects.

Here is a summarized version of this pathway:

*Head forward posture causes mouth breathing and pain

*body shifts into apical breathing

*increased venting off of CO2

*increased respiratory alkalosis (blood pH increases towards alkaline state)

*increased Bohr Effect leading to decreased oxygen to tissues

*increased anaerobic respiration

*increased cortisol release

*reduced ability to have restful sleep patterns

*increased arousal due to poor sleep and increased head forward posture

*further shifts into apical breathing…

Consider how you sit throughout the day.  Address issues of poor sitting posture and work ergonomics – chair height, viewing levels and angles of computers and reading material, and finding ways to take breaks to stretch and realign the body.  Besides some of the obvious benefits of improving your neck posture, maintaining better head alignment in upright and seated positions may be offer support for better sleep.

(image provided by imagerymajestic)