The first time I learned about the “nasal cycle” I was not in school or taking a breathing course. I was at a summer camp and our counselor was splitting us up into teams. The moment stuck out because it was one of the most peculiar sorting methods I’d ever seen. He told us that throughout the day we naturally switch back and forth between which nostril we breath through. Those who are currently breathing through their left nostril on this team and right nostrils on that one!
Well, not only was that counselor right about the nasal cycle, but he could have made a pretty good bet on which team was going to win too…
Your nostrils switch dominance on average every 2-3 hours, though it ranges from 30min to 6 hours. This is a normal and healthy pattern that should occur regularly throughout your day. How do you know which nostril you are breathing out of? Pretty simple, just block one nostril and take a few breaths through the other, then switch. Whichever nostril feels easier to breath through is currently dominant.
What’s the Difference? Left vs. Right
It can be important to know which nostril you are breathing through because of the effects each nostril has on your overall health and attitude. Multiple studies have taken participants through short and long term (up to a month) trials to see what happens if they breath only through one nostril or the other. The core of the findings have been that the left nostril promotes a more relaxed state while the right nostril promotes activity and more strain on the body.
Participants who are forced to breathe only through their right nostril show signs of higher resting heart rates, increased blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels, and lower HRV. In yogic traditions breathing through the right nostril is taught to promote warming and an active state. Those who breathed through their left nostrils in studies had lower breathing rates, lower blood pressure, higher HRV, and overall lower cardiovascular risks. Traditional yoga uses left nostril breathing for a cooling and calming effect.
Understanding which nostril is responsible to stress/activity and which one promotes calm and relaxation can be useful throughout the day. Getting ready to workout and need to wake up? Try out right nostril only breathing. Time to relax or just feeling anxious? Try breathing through your left nostril. You can also influence these states and nostril dominance by adjusting the temperature around you. A cooler environment will help your left nostril open while a hotter setting will lead the right nostril to dominant.
Ideas like this can seem a little woo woo at first, but time and time again it has been tested and proven to have real scientific basis. Experiment regularly and see how breathing through each nostril affects you!