By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Breathing in through your left nostril will access the right “feeling” hemisphere of your brain, and breathing in through your right nostril, will access the left “thinking” hemisphere of your brain. Consciously alternating your breath between either nostril will allow you to activate and access your whole brain.” – Carole Bourne
Mindfulness practices have been shown to alter the brain, including short-term changes in activity and longer-term changes in the size and connectivity of brain areas and the chemistry of the nervous system. It is thought that many of the beneficial effects of mindfulness practices are mediated by these changes in the nervous system. Yoga practice is a mindfulness technique that has documented benefits for the individual’s psychological and physical health and well-being. It has also been shown to produce short- and long-term changes in the brain. It is thus likely that yoga practice also produces its beneficial effects by altering the brain.
Yoga consists of a number of components including, poses, breathing exercises, meditation, concentration, and philosophy/ethics. So, it is difficult to determine which facet or combination of facets of yoga are responsible for which benefit. Hence, it is important to begin to test each component in isolation to determine its effects. In a previously reviewed study the effects of yogic breathing techniques, specifically, left or right or alternating nostril breathing, it was found that these forms of breathing produce improvements in spatial and verbal memory ability. (LINK to Garg et al. study) These effects of left or right nostril breathing are thought to be produced by changing the oxygen flows to the individual neural hemispheres.
In today’s Research News article “Effect of uninostril yoga breathing on brain hemodynamics: A functional near-infrared spectroscopy study.” See:
or below or view the full text of the study at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728953/
Singh and colleagues examine the effects of left or right nostril breathing on oxygen and blood volume flows to the left and right hemispheres. They measured blood volume and oxygen levels in experienced yoga practitioners using a sophisticated optical imaging technique called Functional near-infrared spectroscopy. They were measured on separate days for the effects of left nostril, right nostril, or breath awareness (control condition) on hemispheric blood flows.
They found that with right nostril breathing there was an increase in blood oxygen and blood volume to the left prefrontal cortex while left nostril breathing produced an increase in blood oxygen and blood volume to the right prefrontal cortex. Hence, nostril breathing produces increased flow and oxygenation to the contralateral hemisphere. This would suggest that right nostril breathing would produce increments in left hemisphere functions such as verbal, mathematical, or logical functions, while left nostril breathing would produce increases in right hemisphere functions such as spatial, emotional, or artistic functions. It will be up to future research to test this conjecture.
The results, though, do demonstrate that yogic nostril breathing differentially effects blood flows and oxygenation to the contralateral hemisphere. This provides an underlying mechanism for the effects of yogic nostril breathing.
So, increase hemispheric blood oxygenation with yogic nostril breathing.
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
“Breathing consciously is a powerful act. The process of breathing sits directly at the interface of our voluntary nervous system (aspects of our physiology under our conscious control) and our autonomic nervous system (aspects generally not under conscious control). It’s a direct path for us to communicate quickly to the brain via what we do with our body.” – Paula Watkins
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Singh, K., Bhargav, H., & Srinivasan, T. (2016). Effect of uninostril yoga breathing on brain hemodynamics: A functional near-infrared spectroscopy study. International Journal of Yoga, 9(1), 12–19. http://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.171711
Objectives: To measure the effect of the right and left nostril yoga breathing on frontal hemodynamic responses in 32 right handed healthy male subjects within the age range of 18–35 years (23.75 ± 4.14 years).
Materials and Methods: Each subject practiced right nostril yoga breathing (RNYB), left nostril yoga breathing (LNYB) or breath awareness (BA) (as control) for 10 min at the same time of the day for three consecutive days, respectively. The sequence of intervention was assigned randomly. The frontal hemodynamic response in terms of changes in the oxygenated hemoglobin (oxyHb), deoxygenated hemoglobin (deoxyHb), and total hemoglobin (totalHb or blood volume) concentration was tapped for 5 min before (pre) and 10 min during the breathing practices using a 16 channel functional near-infrared system (FNIR100-ACK-W, BIOPAC Systems, Inc., U.S.A.). Average of the eight channels on each side (right and left frontals) was obtained for the two sessions (pre and during). Data was analyzed using SPSS version 10.0 through paired and independent samples t-test.
Results: Within group comparison showed that during RNYB, oxyHb levels increased significantly in the left prefrontal cortex (PFC) as compared to the baseline (P = 0.026). LNYB showed a trend towards significance for reduction in oxyHb in the right hemisphere (P = 0.057). Whereas BA caused significant reduction in deoxyHb (P = 0.023) in the left hemisphere. Between groups comparison revealed that oxyHb and blood volume in the left PFC increased significantly during RNYB as compared to BA (oxyHb: P =0.012; TotalHb: P =0.017) and LNYB (oxyHb: P =0.024; totalHb: P =0.034).
Conclusion: RNYB increased oxygenation and blood volume in the left PFC as compared to BA and LNYB. This supports the relationship between nasal cycle and ultradian rhythm of cerebral dominance and suggests a possible application of uninostril yoga breathing in the management of psychopathological states which show lateralized cerebral dysfunctions.