- Episode 114, Why The Answer To Men’s Longevity & Better Lovemaking… Is Up Your Bum
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- Listen to “Breathe”
It’s 2 am. I’m asleep but tossing and turning. My body is hot, even though it’s winter. My pulse is going much faster than it should be. In my dream, I can feel the physical thump of my heartbeat pounding in my chest and head. I am on a bus that all of a sudden goes down a huge rollercoaster-like ramp, hundreds of metres high, accelerating towards Sydney Harbour at terminal velocity. The bus crashes into the water. The landing is surprisingly soft. Relief. I’m ok. Then I look towards the front of the bus and all of a sudden I see my son, Leo, sitting alone in the front seat. He hasn’t seen me. And then, the bus starts sinking. Slowly at first, but before I know it, we are underwater. I escape to the surface but can’t see Leo. So I swim frantically to the front of the bus and can see him inside. He still hasn’t seen me. I grab him through an open window and pull him to the surface. The water in the harbour suddenly drains out and we are left sitting together on a grassy hill. I hold him tight to my chest. Crying. I thought I had lost him. The grief and relief is overwhelming.
Then I wake up. The stress in my system is unbearable. I can feel the hot and cold vibration of cortisol in my cells. This feeling of stress hurts. I am lying on my right side and as I take a breath in, I notice my left nostril is blocked, while my right nostril is open. One week later it happens again — a dream that feels like I am in full fight or flight, I’m jolted awake, my left nostril is blocked.
Just like in episode 114, where the sign came in my dreams, again my dreams were communicating something so obvious that I can’t believe I had been missing it for so many years…
If you are like me, you are always wanting to find new techniques that can have a profound impact on your health. With an oversupply of information now available at our fingertips, it’s very easy to get pulled into the latest shiny gadget or pill that promises the world.
Often, it’s all hype…
But sometimes, there are new inventions that do actually deliver. One of those I am currently trialling, which I believe is one of the greatest advancements in health in the past 50-100 years. But, I want to be sure about this before making a recommendation and will be doing a podcast on it in the coming months, if I feel it lives up to expectations.
For the most part, no matter how good something may be, rarely is something new more powerful than the time-tested methods of the past that have evolved over thousands of years.
Today we are going to be talking about one of those methods. It’s something I have known about for many years and played with here and there, but not until recently did it all click into place for me. And man do I wish I jumped on this years ago!
It’s to do with your breathing. And more specifically, with your nose. So let’s start with the science…
You might already know that your nostrils are designed to help you breathe in air, and warm and filter it before it enters your lungs. But did you know there’s a lot more to their role than just that? Did you know that there’s a powerful connection between your nostrils and your nervous system? And that the same sort of tissue found in the penis or clitoris is found in your nose? Yep, your nasal passages have erectile tissue. And it turns out that throughout the day, the brain selectively alternates between congestion and decongestion on each side of your nostrils, by filling this erectile tissue with blood. (Ever noticed that one side of your nose is blocked, while the other is clear, then an hour or two later, the sides are reversed? That’s your nasal cycle — and the erectile tissue — at work.)
Now, here’s the part that clicked for me: Your left nostril is directly connected to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the part of your nervous system that’s responsible for the “rest and relax” functions of your body, such as increasing digestion, decreasing heart rate and respiration. So you can think of your left nostril as your slow down device.
Your right nostril has the opposite effect and is connected to the sympathetic nervous system, which puts you in a state of high alert for impending threats (aka flight or fight). This stress response widens the bronchial passages so that you can take in more air, makes you sweat, gives you goosebumps and decreased motility in your large intestine, to name just a few. Basically, it has you on the alert and ready to run from danger at a moment’s notice.
Over the past few months, I have become more and more aware that my left nostril as a whole is slightly obstructed and lets in around 50% less air than the right nostril on a permanent basis. Knowing that my brain actually wants to use my nostrils for regulating brain symmetry and autonomic nervous system, I figured this can’t be a good thing, right?
Now let’s rewind to those stress-filled dreams. Both times, my left nostril was totally blocked, which means I was literally sleeping in a sympathetic activated and elevated state. (No wonder I felt like my body was on fire from the cortisol rushing through my veins!) And even sitting here as I say this, something huge is clicking for me. Over the past several years, I have looked at my hormonal health and sleeping patterns. Consistently my cortisol is very low when I wake up. Could this be that my body has been stressed through the night due to the deceased airflow through my left nostril, so by the time I wake up, my cortisol-producing capabilities have more or less dried up?
This realisation led me to seek out a way to open up my nostrils — particularly the obstructed left one, to see if the simple act of letting in more air could impact my sleep, stress response and hormonal profile.
Immediately, I honed in on a simple solution that costs me just under $1 per day, that’s accessible at any chemist, and that has zero side effects: Nasal congestion strips. If you haven’t seen or heard of these before, they’re a small plastic bandage-like strip that you stick down over the bridge over your nose to help open up your airways. I first saw them on footballers and other professional athletes, who’ve long known about their benefits. They’re also popular with people who snore, as they can completely eliminate nighttime snuffling. When I first bought them, they looked so simple and innocuous, I thought surely this can’t make a very big difference. But the first night I put them on, I was shocked. I pressed down on the surface of the strip for a minute so the glue could take hold, and then the moment I released my fingers – boom – I could breathe better. Just. Like. That.
I was so excited to go to sleep that night! And ever since, I have woken up feeling way fresher and hardly moving through the night. And those cortisol-fuelled dreams? Gone. In fact, what has been super interesting is that my right nostril, even though when I go to bed it’s totally wide open, has been getting blocked during the night. Crazy right?! Something is clearly going on here. Needless to say, I am hooked on these strips now. They are AMAZING.
I have been tapping into this powerful nostril/nervous system connection in other ways too. I like to stop before I eat, block my right nostril and take a few deep breaths using a 1-2 rhythm. So 3 seconds in, 4 seconds out, using that longer exhalation to increase carbon dioxide and take my body into a more parasympathetic state. This also increases salivation before you eat and releases more happy hormones like serotonin and oxytocin.
And it turns out that thousands of years ago, those super smart and dialled in ancient Indians were onto this. They called it Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath which lies at the heart of yoga. Pranayama can be roughly translated as the ‘control of life force’. And there is one particular alternate nostril breathing technique that relates to the balancing of your brain hemispheres called Nadi Shodhana. Nadi meaning “channel” and Shodhana means “purification”.
You can use this alternate nostril breathing to help settle your mind, reduce the feelings of stress, and balance emotions. It’s incredibly simple…
- Sit comfortably with a tall straight spine.
- Rest your pointer finger and middle finger of your right hand lightly between your eyebrows.
- Close your eyes and breath in and out through your nose, then using your right thumb, close your right nostril.
- Breathe in through the left nostril slowly then close the left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are held closed.
- Hold your breath briefly, then release your thumb and breathe out through your right nostril.
- Open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side, pausing briefly at the bottom of the exhale.
- Inhale through the right side, hold both nostrils closed briefly, then open your left nostril and release the breath slowly through the left side. Pause briefly at the bottom.
Simply repeat this cycle for as long as you like. For me personally, I do 6 minutes before each of my meditations, giving me 12 minutes per day of Nadi Shodhana.
I have also loved learning more about oxygen vs carbon dioxide because I always thought that we need to get as much air in and as much oxygen as possible. The more oxygen in the better, right? Actually, no. It turns out that most of the ancient breathing practices are focused on the opposite, carbon dioxide. For example, the worst thing for an athlete to do is to breathe heavily, especially through their mouth. There was a long-forgotten training technique revived in the ’90s by the US swim team which involved the athletes training while holding their breath. They went on to have their most successful Olympics ever.
Numerous studies have shown that people who are terminally ill or have chronic diseases take more breaths per minute than healthy people. Yogic philosophy commonly states that our lifespan doesn’t depend on the number of days we live but on the number of breaths we take. Pranayama is about consciously controlling your breath to become long and deep, so the fewer breaths we take, the longer we live. There is also a theory that in asthmatics the body actually constricts the air supply to make the person breathe less, i.e. take in less oxygen. In fact, one of the most effective methods for asthma called Buteyko which we have used in our house with Leo involves holding your breath and training your body to adapt to having healthier levels of carbon dioxide in the blood.
Whichever breathing hack you use — the nasal strip or the Nadi Shodhana breathing, or ideally both — there is so much power and benefit to be found from tapping into this nostril / nervous system connection and using it to intentionally (and pretty much effortlessly) engage your relaxation response, improve your sleep, and start shifting your nervous system away from always being in stress mode. So give it a go. Build it into your daily routine and come and share with me on social media how you feel. You can find me at @iamnickbroadhurst on Instagram. And I can’t wait to hear how you go.
Please leave me a comment below (I read every single one!). And if you could take a minute to leave me a review on iTunes I would be very grateful. Tell me what you want more of! I am at your service.
P.S. Always listen to your intuition (and your doctor or practitioner) before trying any new health or lifestyle practice.