Know Thy Nostrils—Know Thyself

10 Sep

There’s an Ancient Greek saying, “Know Thyself.”

It is thought that Socrates came up with this guiding rule during his initiation into the fraternity Iota Eta Pi after successfully meeting the goldfish-swallowing challenge by engaging in total mind control:  he willed himself to think canned peaches.

Socrates believed that in order to be wise and to better understand the human condition we must first know ourselves.  He argued that the unexamined life is not worth living—and then he was condemned to death.

Ever since then, the term “Know Thyself” has been popularized by both Eastern and Western religions and come to signify man’s lifelong journey towards greater awareness of body, mind and soul (although for most men, body awareness generally applies to Kim Kardashian).

“Know Thyself” challenges us all to learn more about ourselves.  It implies it’s not enough to know our cholesterol level, weight, and iron count, we must delve deeper into ourselves and examine parts of us that we often take for granted—such as our nostrils.

You may be surprised to learn that about 85% of us breathe out of one nostril at a time, and that the pattern of switching breathing between nostrils happens in cycles about every four hours.  (It should be noted that a doctor who’s very experienced in smelling verified this fact—my podiatrist).

Which nostril you breathe out of affects your body and brain:  breathing through your left nostril makes the right hemisphere of your brain (your creative/imaginative side) more dominant, and breathing through your right nostril makes your left hemisphere (your logical side) more dominant.  This conclusion was most likely drawn by a team of scientists with chronically clogged right nostrils.

A popular movement in alternative healing is called alternate nostril breathing, which involves breathing in and out of one nostril while closing the other off.  Even Dr. Oz from Oprah endorses it.  He claims it stimulates the olfactory nerves and helps balance the right and left brain.

Alternate nostril breathing has also been proven beneficial to children in helping them access the whole brain.  In certain cases, opening the nasal passages has helped children access more than just thoughts.  For example, in one noted case, four-year old Billy Brewster accessed a mint 1858 gold dollar coin, a vintage set of cufflinks, and his pet hamster Fluffy.

Dr. Oz is also a fan of left nostril breathing, which supposedly improves spatial memory (the kind that helps you remember where you put your keys) by bringing more blood flow to the hippocampus (the area of the brain that controls memory and not the area where hippopotamuses take college courses).

The point of all this talk about Socrates and nostrils is that the more in tune we are with ourselves, the wiser we become not just about ourselves, but about humanity.  This achievement will allow us to take a deep breath knowing the world will be a better place for it.  And, we’ll be in control of which nostril we’re breathing through while we do it.   Now, if only I could remember which is my left nostril and which is my right.

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58 Responses to “Know Thy Nostrils—Know Thyself”

  1. prachi jain September 10, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    Two nostrils . . .Uh . ., thumbs up!

  2. I suck as a parent September 10, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    That explains why I can’t remember anything-I’ve always been a right nostril kinda girl.

  3. shalaghhogan September 10, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Lisa, this was at least a four chuckler. Very funny and informative too. I wish my nose weren’t stuffed up. Surely I’d get even more out of it.

    • Main Street Musings Blog September 10, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

      Thanks for the compliment, glad you enjoyed it. And sorry to hear you have a stuffed up nose. That blows.

  4. G M Barlean September 10, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    I’m sitting here with my right nostril plugged so I can come up with creative writing ideas. Hope it works! Interesting and fun post.

    • Main Street Musings Blog September 10, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

      Ha ! Love it. Just be sure you don’t plug the left one at the same time or you won’t get much writing done. 😉

      • G M Barlean September 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

        Good point!

  5. Honie Briggs September 10, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    The alternate nostril breathing technique is an excellent practice for deepening your breath. It may seem wacky & it is kind of is a first, but it does force you to focus and once it becomes less forced, you begin to experience a calmness and clarity of thought. I learned it from a yoga instructor in Colorado way before Dr. Oz jumped on the bandwagon. I guess now everybody will be walking around thumbing their noses! HA 🙂 Great post!!

  6. August McLaughlin September 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    Who knew our nostrils were so talented?!? I’ve noticed that I often breathe through one nostril. Thanks for showing me that could be a great thing.

  7. on thehomefrontandbeyond September 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    how interesting and here is to left nostril breathing–(btw-your left nostril is under your left eye and a little to the middle)

  8. Perfecting Motherhood September 10, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    Is this for real? It sounds like you could publish this on The Onion website! Doesn’t the air we breathe all go down one main tube, the oesophagus, towards our lungs? Pardon my skepticism but I’m puzzled! What did I miss?

  9. Carrie Rubin September 10, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    One more thing I need to worry about during yoga. I’m a bad enough meditative breather as it is…

    Thanks for a good laugh along with an education. I give it two sniffs up.

    • Main Street Musings Blog September 10, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

      Thanks! I’m wondering as I write this if I would have responded differently If I had been breathing through my other nostril . . .

      • Carrie Rubin September 10, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

        Oh, that was a good one!

  10. Paprika Furstenburg September 10, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    Trying to figure out which nostril I breathe out of while reading your post was so distracting I had to go back and reread it. I’ve known a few children who have “tried to access their whole brains” through their nostrils. Too bad they were using their fingers at the time.

  11. Carol R Craley September 10, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    Here’s my question… bad allergy spell, both nostrils and sinus blocked… doing a lot of mouth breathing. Does that mean neither side of my brain is working?

  12. the domestic fringe September 10, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

    Just want you to know I am sitting here trying to breath out of each nostril, one at a time. Oh, and my left nostril is collapsed, the result of too many sinus infections. I am pretty screwed in the breathing department. My poor, poor brain.
    ~FringeGirl

  13. Huffygirl September 10, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    Maybe you should have called this “nose thyself” 🙂

  14. Deb Weyrich-Cody September 10, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    I’ve done alternate nostril (Kapalabhati) breathing at yoga class and know that it really wakes you up while cleaning out the sinuses. Pretty sure you always start with the right nostril, not really sure why (just one more way that some of us are “left” out?) but this is all about balancing, so be sure to end opposite that you start; you’ll be amazed how great you feel afterward. Here’s a great collection of yoga videos… http://www.doyogawithme.com/yoga_breathing (and don’t forget to have that box of tissues handy; )

    • Main Street Musings Blog September 11, 2012 at 11:26 am #

      Deb, thanks so much for the additional information for any readers out there who want to “get a breath of fresh air” and try something new!

  15. earthriderjudyberman September 10, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    This would explain so much … if only I had a brain. I’m taking a deep breath now, Lisa, and focusing more clearly on your hilarious and informative post.

    • Main Street Musings Blog September 11, 2012 at 11:47 am #

      Ha! I too, often feel like the scarecrow in need of a brain. Lucky us–we don’t have to seek out the Wizard of Oz — we have Dr. Oz!

  16. The Laughing Mom September 11, 2012 at 1:32 am #

    I hope I don’t pass out at my computer practicing this technique. If that is the way the brain works, I don’t even have a sinus right passage. You uncover the most interesting things to write about!

    • Main Street Musings Blog September 11, 2012 at 11:49 am #

      Thanks! I hope you don’t pass out at your computer either! I’m impressed that you’re able to type with one hand on your nose and the other on your keyboard! 😉

  17. funnyortragic September 11, 2012 at 3:19 am #

    Based off of this information, I should not consider that four year old picking their nose gross, but an enlightened being in deep investigation. Har har. (I had to make the laughy noise because it didn’t deserve a snare drum)

    • Main Street Musings Blog September 11, 2012 at 11:56 am #

      I like the “har har” laugh noise but my computer just tried to correct it to “had had”) which doesn’t work so well.

  18. gabrielablandy September 11, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    What a great post – and love all the puns that have come out of it. I was taught this in a yoga class last year, but there was very little explanation given as to why it was a good thing to do. How great to read your illuminating post – knowledge and creativity is just a breath away. Thanks!

    • Main Street Musings Blog September 11, 2012 at 11:59 am #

      Thank you for your clever reply. This post has elicited some great comments.

      • gabrielablandy September 11, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

        It has. Sometimes, that’s what’s so wonderful about a great post – as well as the fact that it’s great, of course!

  19. shovonc September 11, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    Sad to hear about Fluffy.

  20. starlaschat September 11, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    Fun Post! Yesterday because of lots of smoke in air both side were blocked. Today much better.
    I enjoyed the information about “Know Thyself” amazing two little words, but so profound.

    • Main Street Musings Blog September 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

      Thanks! Glad to hear both sides have unclogged! Hopefully you can take a breather now . . .

  21. Sophie Milan September 11, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    Kim Kardashian ftw! Haha. That’s real fun. But the more intriguing part is the cycle of alternate nostril breathing. Wow. I never knew of this before. And I’ll admit reading that, I actually tried to know if I’m breathing with just one. And yes. Far as I felt. Haha. I think this is really helpful and people should try it. it might be applicable to them. I’ll try this esp. in difficult times. Thanks for the post! 😉

    • Main Street Musings Blog September 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed it. I never knew about it until recently either. Hopefully the post opens peoples eye (and nostrils) to breathing.

  22. Audubon Ron September 12, 2012 at 8:56 am #

    In these situations I usually say, “You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but, you can’t pick your friend’s nose.”

    You’re welcome.

  23. dawn@lightenup! September 13, 2012 at 8:29 am #

    Wow, Lisa. You are full of…
    Useful information!
    And stuff.
    Seriously, though, neat stuff. I had no idea!

    • Main Street Musings Blog September 13, 2012 at 10:22 am #

      You might want to try alternate nostril breathing at work, for example during a monday morning meeting . . .

  24. runningonsober September 20, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    I always remember my mom saying if I don’t like the taste of something, to hold my nose while eating or drinking it, so that way my taste buds wouldn’t work as well. Maybe closing both nostrils closes off communication and sensory perception with our brains? Hmmm, never really thought it through.

    I find this (and you) fascinating! Thanks for the topic, I’ll be reading… and alternating my nostril breathing. 🙂

    • Main Street Musings Blog September 20, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

      My kids used to hold their noses when they took a teaspoon of medicine. Now that they’re older, they only hold their noses when they eat my cooking. Thanks for commenting, and for your very kind words!

  25. Ankur Mithal October 1, 2012 at 6:11 am #

    Very informative. Any research on the brain of people who are forced to breathe through their mouth because of perpetually clogged nostrils?

  26. Ina October 2, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Wait. Didn’t Dr. Oz also endorse the Boob Pillow?

  27. reptilesintheicecream October 8, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    Dr. Oz also endorses Nose Washes… just saying.

    http://reptilesintheicecream.com/2009/10/26/the-absolute-grossest-thing/

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