Pursuit of Calm #17


“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart:
I am, I am, I am.”
-Sylvia Plath

German physician Richard Kayser (circa 1895) termed the phrase “nasal cycle” which is where the tissues in the nose swell and shrink, or congest and decongest. He observed periods cycles of congestion and decongestion that alternated between the right and left nostril aka “nasal cycling”. This phenomenon is now widely known in the broader scientific community, however our yogi friends have known about it for millennia.

This is what the men in white coats confirm thus far:

  1. At any one moment, whether you know it or not, you are breathing through one dominant nostril; then a switch happens automatically and you begin to breathe through the other nostril. This occurs roughly and rhythmically every 2.5 hours.
  2. The rhythmic cycle seems to be controlled by the central nervous system (CNS)
  3. The congestion and decongestion cycle is related to the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)

Nearly all organs in the body, including the brain, are innervated (connected by nerves) by fibres from both the SNS (fight, flight, fornicate) and the PNS (rest & digest). There are a bunch of these nerves in our nose – nerves that cover the right side of the body and the right nostril, and the another one that covers the left side and the left nostril. What the men in white coats are finding now, and what our saffron wearing baldies have know for centuries, is that those fibres have opposing effects. This basically means that at any given time you’ll have SNS dominance (and breathe through the right nostril), or have PNS dominance (and breathe through the left nostril)

Why Does This Matter?

Research shows that the way your body functions is quite different based on which side the body has sympathetic dominance.

When the sympathetic system is right side dominant:

  • Right nostril dominance
  • Right lung dominant
  • Generally more alert
  • Activity levels increased
  • Blood pressure increased
  • Respiration rate increased
  • Body temperature increased
  • Cortisol increased – (impact of elevated cortisol-click link)
  • Prolactin secretion reduces
  • Testosterone increase
  • Endorphins increased

When the sympathetic system is left side dominant:

  • Left nostril dominance
  • Left lunge dominant
  • Generally feeling more rested & calm
  • Activity levels decreased
  • Heart rate reduced
  • Blood pressure reduced
  • Respiration rate reduced
  • Body temperature reduced
  • Cortisol reduced
  • Prolactin secretion increased add link from desktop
  • Testosterone reduced
  • Endorphins reduced

In short, throughout the course of the day you alternate between more active and more restful state – referred to as ‘basic rest-activity cycle’.


Breathing in through either nostril will emphasis the qualities of either the SNS or PNS. And this is where we can begin to use this systems to not only garner more calm, peace and relaxation, but also to improve our concentration, focus and energy levels

Not only that, we can tap into these systems to better manage our day to to day, to compose ourselves and ‘deal’ with the stresses and strains that inevitably obstruct our day.

We can either consciously, or unconsciously, use our breathe is a metronome for how we interact, connect and respond to our world around us.

A disciplined morning breath-work practice will not only allow you to prepare & compose yourself for the day ahead, but also effortlessly default to when we’re invariably triggered through the course of our day…and that’s a superpower!

Next: Part 2: The Practice of Alternate Nose Breathing

And remember, even if you you breathe properly, if you eat well, get good sleep, exercise and hydrate, you’ll die anyway

Current Reading List & References:

Welcoming the Unwelcome by Pema Chödrön
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
The Wisdom of Frugality by Emrys Westacott
4000 Weeks
by Oliver Burkeman
The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy
Mindsight: Change your brain and your life by Daniel J Siegel MD
Aristotle’s Way by Edith Hall
Wherever You Go, There You Are. John Kabat-Zinn
“Start Where You Are” by Pema Chödrön
“Breathe” by James Nestor
The Places That Scare You” by Pema Chödrön
“In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Gabor Maté
The Shortness Of Life by Seneca
“Lost Connections” by Johann Hari
How To Meditate – Pema Chödrön
The Wisdom of No Escape – Pema Chödrön
‘Breaking Down the Wall of Silence’ – Alice Miller
Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
Atomic Habits – James Clear
The New Rules For Lifting For Life – Lou Shuler
Why We Sleep – Matthew Walker PhD
Essentialism: The Discipline Pursuit Of Less – Greg McKeown
Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahnemen
Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The Resilience Project: Finding Happiness Through Gratitude Empathy & Mindfulness – Hugh Van Cuylenburg
Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Foods – Catherine Shanahan MD
The School of Life – An Emotional Education
The School of Life – How To Think More Effectively
The Consolations Of Philosophy – Alain De Botton
Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief – Jordan B Peterson
The Owners Manual for the Brain: The Ultimate Guide to Peak Mental Performance – Pierce J. Howard
The Daily Stoic / Stillness Is The Key / Ego Is The Enemy / The Obstacle is The Way– Ryan Halliday
Indistractable – How To Control Your Attention & Choose Your Life – Nir Eyal
Mindset – Dr Carol Dweck
The Holy Shit Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in A Minute – James Fell
Stop Playing Safe – Margie Warrell
The Worlds Fittest Book – Ross Edgley
The Art Of Resilience – Ross Edgley
The Oxygen Advantage: Scientific Proven Breathing Techniques To Revolutionise Your Health – Patrick McKeown
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking – Malcolm Gladwell
The Practicing Mind – Develop Focus & Discipline Your Life – Thomas M. Sterner
Mistakes Were Made – Carol Travis & Elliot Aronson
Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor Frankl
Life: A Users Manual – Julian Baggini & Antonia Macaro
Good Habits Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick – Wendy Wood
The Madness of Crowds – Douglas Murray
The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
Wired To Eat – Robb Wolf
Philosophy For Life, and other dangerous situations – Jules Evans
Peak – Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool
The Body, A guide For Occupants – Bill Bryson
The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz