How well are you breathing? 10 Top Tips for better balanced breath

22nd June 2023

Hands up who suffers from summer allergies? Winter sniffles? Or other seasonal, environment or health-related sinus issues? – Breathe easy!

Breath is central to both teaching and participating in an effective Pilates or Yoga class. Everything begins with the breath – including the very first thing we do when we are born into the world – we take an inhalation.

Breath and the nervous system

Inhalation is associated with the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – which is motivating, uplifting and energising. I don’t see it as any accident that another word for it is ‘inspiration’. It is the SNS that enables us to take inspired action in this world. We literally breath in inspiration from the world around us.

When we are lacking motivation or energy, there are specific breath practices you can do to help feel renewed, re-charged and re-energised. They are known to ‘raise prana’ in the yogic philosophy, or you could say, increase the quality of air we breathe and circulate. Similarly, there are breath practices that will calm an over stimulated nervous system, to help reduce stress and aid sleep, as well as practices to balance the nervous system.

The relationship between the breath and the nervous system is therefore key to improving our health and longevity and whether you are a Pilates or Yoga teacher, our CPD meditation and pranayama course will teach you all of these techniques, as well as specific techniques for health conditions such as long covid, asthma and anxiety.

However, before we start teaching or partaking in ANY breath practices, we need to take a step back. Unless we are able to breathe in a functional manner, with a soft, steady, even in breath and out breath, attempting specific breath practices could increase tension and chemical imbalances in the body.

The benefits of nasal breathing

80% of the population have a breathing dysfunction.

Emma Ferris [1]

And the first port of call – slow the breath down and breath in through the nose.

The research on the benefits of nasal breathing with regards our overall health and vitality is clear, clearly explained in ‘The Breath’ by James Nestor. In a nutshell:

I recall Manju Jois saying during a 5-day intensive yoga teacher training many years ago that how balanced your nostrils are is a clear indication of how healthy your physical body and subtle energy is. If we were in perfect balance and harmony, we would be able to close 1 nostril and breath freely and easily through the opposite nostril and vice versa, without any restrictions. And this makes perfect sense.

Balancing the breath

In our Yin yoga teacher trainings we discuss how the left nostril reflects the parasympathetic nervous system (Yin energy) and the right nostril reflects the sympathetic nervous system (yang energy). Whilst we seek to bring them into balance, we naturally go through 90 minute cycles throughout the day whereby one nostril will be slightly more open or ‘dominant’ than the other.

We can learn to become aware of this to help us determine the times of the day when we are more in our Yin or Yang energy, and there are specific techniques you will learn to bring in more balance and even switch the energy if needed.

However, what if your nose is blocked due to illness, allergies, sinus issues or as a side effect of medication?

This is something I have been experiencing since my Chemotherapy, and thankfully I have been discovering ways to overcome blockages to enable me to maintain nasal breathing, so I thought I would share them in this blog in case other find them useful.

I have noticed it’s my left nostril that has become prone to being blocked, interestingly the Yin side. Below is a variety of ways I manage it to bring balance into my body and to be able to nasal breathe which I am aware is so important for health.

My 10 Top Tips for clearing and balancing the sinuses

1. Lying on my side for 3 minutes – I play with which side I lay on, however, it always improves it and increases balance.

2. Dab a little bit of peppermint essential oil (in a carrier oil) on the tip of my nostril and breathe it in. When I did this in a sauna it cleared it instantly!!!

3. Once it is cleared enough so that I can close my right nostril and breath through my left in some capacity, I do the kapalabati breathing (without the stomach pumps) in the mirror and observe the range of movement I can see at the sinus – if you try it you will see the relationship between your belly, throat and nose – all linked by fascial connections!

4. I also do the kapalabati breath with both nostrils so I can observe the imbalance between the two.

5. I massage around the bottom of my nostril on either side, and higher up where the sinus are, and gently pull the skin away from the bridge of the nose to increase space. I breathe as I do this.

6. Swimming / bobbing in the sea (salt water) – face down – you could do a floating star fish (exhale bubbles) – this has been instantly clearing any congestion.

7. I put boiling water in a jug (be careful) and add a few drop of eucalyptus essential oil. I place a tea towel over my head and breathe it in.

8. Make sure I rest when I can – I generally do a 15 minute relaxation / meditation practice every day – anti-inflammatory and healing.

9. Ensure I sleep well and if I have a disturbed night, compensate by doing a Yoga Nidra during the day.

10. I also eat an anti-inflammatory diet and have turmeric every day.

These are the things I have found most effective. If you are used to neti pots then that is also effective. Personally, I find placing my face on the sea easier, so it is worth exploring what works for you.

Yogic practices that help to switch on the ‘relaxation response’ such as Yoga Nidra and Yin naturally encourage students to slow their breath down, however, the way you cue and the tone of voice you use can make a huge difference in the way students experience their breath. This is all incorporated on our CPD courses in Yin, Yoga Nidra and also Chakras and Elements which is all about the way in which our subtle energy flows within us and affects us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

The transformative effects of breathing

The more I learn, evolve, grow and teach, the more I can see just how significant the quality of our breath and vital energy is for our health and wellbeing on ALL levels. Contrary to popular belief, 90% of our energy comes from the breath, and only 10% comes from food! [2]

Now imagine if we devoted the same amount of time and focus on the way we breathed and the quality of our breath as we do what we eat!!! Imagine ‘breathing’ being on our restaurant menus. Now there’s a thought!!!

During the closing circle on the amazing Summer Solstice Retreat I ran at the weekend, one 73 year old participant who suffered with COPD and many other ailments shared her experience; She felt as though she could breathe for the first time since she could remember. It literally brought tear to my eye. She hadn’t been going out of the house for years. Since the retreat I’m told she’s been walking to the beach and doing some simple breath practices every morning. Now THAT is an example of the power of very simple breath awareness and how it can literally change someone’s life! It has given her the confidence to leave the house by herself!

I felt so grateful I was able to incorporate her into the classes and workshops over the weekend, whilst still accommodating the rest of the group.

If you feel you would benefit from learning how to modify and adapt for older adults and common health conditions, then my 4 day Older adult and back care course could be worth considering. If you’d like to immerse yourself in nature, participate in a variety of yoga and well-being practices and and experience some transformative shifts, then our 2024 Summer Solstice Retreat is open for booking now.

Observing this transformation has inspired me to theme one of my classes at the Brighton Yoga Festival on 22nd July on the breath, which I’ve called ‘Breathe easy’.

The whole Harmonise team will be at the festival and are all teaching.

I’ll be on the Harmonise / Revitalise stand as well, so it would be lovely to see you there!

Use Promo Codes*:
SUMMER10 to save an extra £10 on CPD or Teacher Training Courses and Retreats
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on TOP of existing Earlybird discounts!

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[1] Emma Ferris of ‘The Breath Effect’, quoted in Shondaland Blog


Article by: Clare Francis

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