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Tag Archives: Breathing

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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