This article was written by Dr. J.A.M Murray for the 4th issue of Amrita Magazine.
You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry.
And be sure to smell the flowers along the way
Why we should breathe through our noses
The nose lining is an extension of the lung lining, but the link between the nose and the lungs is surprisingly poorly understood by the medical profession. In this article I will explain why the yoga injunction to breathe through the nose rather than the mouth is important, and then discuss ways of maintaining a healthy nose.
One huge advantage of nasal breathing versus mouth breathing is that it causes about 50% more resistance to the airstream than does mouth breathing, This results in an increase in Oxygen uptake in the alveoli of the lungs of up to 20%. (Cottle, 1972). There must be adequate nasal resistance to breathing to maintain elasticity of the lungs (Cottle,1980). Breathing through the mouth when the nose is obstructed usually imposes too little resistance and can lead to micro-areas of poor ventilation in the lungs (atelectasis). Alternatively, many years of breathing against excessive resistance, as with nasal obstruction, may also cause micro-areas of poor ventilation (emphysema).
There is a condition called the nasopulmonary reflex by which if the nose is blocked lung function is diminished. This is resolved by unblocking the nose. Nasal reflexes, coupled with the resistance of the nose, increase the efficiency of the lungs and improve the ultimate effectiveness of heart action (Albert and Winters, 1966; Butler, 1960; Edison and Kerth, 1973). This results in lowering the percentage of lactic acid in the blood (Luescher, 1930). Lactic acid is an important chemical maintaining a regular rhythm of the heart, rising and falling with breathing.
When one lies with the head to one side, the turbinates of the lower nostril become congested. The chamber narrows and the lumen is closed: thus, breathing during sleep is unilateral. The nose initiates movement of the head from one side to the other, which in tum inaugurates a major movement and turning of the body. This head-and-body-moving cycle initiated by the nose ensures maximum rest during sleep (Cole and Haight,1984 ). A poorly functioning nose may allow the body and head to remain in one position and can cause symptoms such as backaches, numbness, cramps, and circulatory deficits (Davies et al., 1989; Javorka et al., 1985). Thus, when the normal function of the nose is disturbed or impaired, disturbed sleep may occur.
Causes of a blocked nose
The nose internally consists of the midline cartilaginous and bony septum and the sidewalls are turbinates, which are very vascular swellings. In the normal nose one side increases the size of the turbinates while the other shrinks so enabling the nose to moisten inhaled air and give a good airway on the other side. This process alternates every four hours and usually goes unnoticed. It is called the nasal cycle. If there is any abnormality e.g. deviated septum, this cycle is disrupted and may give rise to nasal blockage. A deviated nasal septum is very common and is present in perhaps more than half of the United Kingdom population.
There are many other causes of nasal blockage including viruses, pollutants such as smoke and dust and other toxins, particularly in today’s combustive industrial society, worsened with hermetic sealing of homes and offices. Other causes include general allergies including house dust mite as well as hay fever.
How to maintain a healthy nose
Not surprisingly many of the practices we are familiar with from yoga are effective at keeping the nose clear and healthy:
1. Breathe through your nose unless exercising hard.
2. Blow your nose regularly whether you feel you need to or not.
3. Maintain a healthy lifestyle including exercise and modifying the diet. This means decreasing sugar and carbohydrates intake and yeast intake. By this means I have cured patients of nasal blockage and polyps, avoiding surgery.
4. Washing out the nose regularly cleanses pollutants and allergies from the lining of the nose. Use a weak saline solution by dissolving two teaspoonfuls of salt in a tumbler of water, tap water is fine, or more depending to taste. Adding the same amount of sodium bicarbonate, baking soda may be helpful. Either using in a Netipot or even pouring some into the palm of your hand and sniffing up is adequate. The Netipot will direct the liquid backwards and come out the other nostril assuming you’re bending your neck forward. The palm method usually produces sneezing removing the offending substances.
5. If the nasal blockage continues seeking medical opinion.
6. I endorse both Kapalabhati and Bhastika but do not favour one over the other.
7. If house dust mite allergy is suspected simple measures can be used like freezing your pillows for 24 hours, thereby killing the bugs; getting protective mattress covers and removing any fluffy toys or unnecessary material from the bedroom. The bedroom is where one third of your life is spent so it makes sense to protect it.
8. Steam inhalations can be very helpful. Put boiling water in a bowl, lean over it and put a towel over your head. Breathe this steam to the nose. The combined heat and moisture shrinks the turbinates and liquefies the mucous so it is less noticeable. Do this twice a day for 10 minutes each time. I know this is boring but it works very well and does a great number on your facial skin.
9. Avoid any over-the-counter nasal sprays as these can lead to addiction requiring medical attention. They only work for a short time for nasal obstruction and when they wear off the blockage returns worse than ever.
Dr. J.A.M Murray
Jonathan is a retired otorhinolaryngologist and is a retired fellow of several surgical colleges in three continents. He has worked in many countries around the world and has published 75 peer reviewed scientific articles.
Jonathan also had interesting career as a vineyard owner, making and selling Canadian wine. He spends his retired years travelling, writing and sharing his research on The Vitality Diet he created, which targets allergies, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. http://thevitalitydiet.com