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One hour of slow breathing changed my life (theguardian.com)
550 points by viburnum 17 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 321 comments



I started reading his book Breath, and he made the starting claim that, in essence, you could choose to be either energetic or restful by picking one nostril to breathe out of for awhile. (Naturally we breath out of one nostril at a time, and the body goes back and forth, but "it's a balance that can also be gamed").

I found this claim a bit... suspicious, and Googled, and didn't find much scientific evidence for this claim. I found a bunch of blog posts by yoga-affiliated people, and the like.

I asked about this on Biology Stack Exchange, unfortunately with no answer.

https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/94651/

I would be very curious if any HN reader knows more about this. That said, my impression of Nestor (who is a journalist, and not a scientist) was that he was perhaps a bit too eager to jump to conclusions.


There’s an entire practice around this stemming from yogic philosophy called nadi shoodana—alternate nostril breathing—the theory essentially says doing this can regulate different male and female energies in the body, which are both responsible for different things, including energy levels (hyper vs relaxed).

I can’t personally attest to any of the deeper claims of the theory, but I have used the alternate nostril breathing as part of meditation practice and I can say that focusing on the breath in this way at the very least helps one enter a meditative state, like many other pranayama techniques.

I’ve never dug into the science attempting to prove the proclaimed effects since experientially it helps me enter meditation, which is what I value it for—I’m not so sure its a good use of time trying to validate the overarching theoretical claims of ancient sources—the practices can still be highly beneficial even if the claims aren’t correct, and I think the main benefit of controlled breathing practices relate to meditation. (that said the body is an interconnected system so its totally plausible that regulating the breath, thus the heartbeat, thus the flow of blood throughout the system could have system wide effects).

If nothing else, hopefully these terms help you in your research.


If anyone else was confused (I was and had to google), the practice of alternate nostril breathing entails physically obstructing alternating nostrils with a finger as you take breaths.


At first, but once you reach nostril nirvana you unlock the ability to breathe with your third nostril


Can I consider my mouth my third nostril and reach nostril nirvana already?


There's a joke in Russian quite popular among small kids: "The hedgehog learned to breathe through his butthole. One day he sat down to rest and suffocated".

(Hedgehog is the hero if many slightly absurdist jokes).


Hedgehogs can't (to my knowledge), but turtles can! A fact that seeks any opportunity to be shared. (Example source: https://www.livescience.com/61018-turtles-breathe-through-bu...)


You were always there :)


Only waiting to realize.


Let me actually encourage you try this. Imagine you have a third nostril placed between the 2 real (forming a line or a triangle - whatever you like better), visualize and "sensualize" (do your best imagining it in details and feeling it) breathing through 3 nostrils. As a result this may trigger a nasal congestion relief. Try this the next time you catch a cold.


Not going to lie: "Naturally we breath out of one nostril at a time" had me looking very confused! I even tried contorting my face to get one of my nostrils to close, haha


If you pay attention, one of the nostrils are likely to be more active (as measured in air flow) at a given time and the active nostril will switch side from time to time, perhaps something like every couple of hours.


I think that just depends on which nostril is the least clogged at that particular time.


It mainly depends on which turbinates are more blood filled at a given time. See e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasal_cycle


There’s an advanced variant in which you don’t use the fingers and attempt to manipulate the breath using the lungs only—its called anulom vilom


That can't be right, nostrils "merge" at the back of our throat?


If anyone wants to experience this kind of breathing in the context of a Yoga class, I really recommend this Sivananda class. It combines sun salutations with breathing exercises for really interesting experience. I have no idea on the science, but it has been a positive addition to my life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmMww1Wo6Tc


Stumbled over this[1] paper while searching, says there's no correlation between forced-nostril breathing and performance in a verbal task.

However they mention their test subjects were not very uniform, and I'm not really in a position to evaluate their methods so...

[1]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3144611/


Agreed. The practices seem to have an affect that I find useful and interesting. The metaphysical/energetic claims I can put to one side.


Is the swapping between two nostrils a conscious/mental effort? Is it something you get used to with physically blocking the nostrils?


With a lot of these things I would highly recommend to just try it. If it works for you, good. If not, don't do it. It doesn't cost anything and you won't harm yourself.

I started yoga before it became mainstream and with a lot of the practices I tried them for myself. For example I noticed that some pranayama practices work for me and others don't. Back then pretty much every "serious" scientist or doctor would have told you that all this is nonsense. Same for meditation.

Try it. there is not much to lose. It doesn't cost anything and won't harm you. Worst case it doesn't work.


This. The purpose of science is to discover the truth, not make the truth. You don't science to confirm everything before you try it. With things like breathing where you know it's not going to cause harm, just try it for yourself.


The problem is that you're biased - confirmation bias, expectation bias, selection bias, optimism bias, observer expectancy effect, the list goes on - and you end up learning all things except the truth.


As long as it does something beneficial who cares after all what the bias is? Placebo may play a role in it but once again, what do we care about here, whether something is beneficial or whether it can be explained why it is beneficial? For some the former and for some the latter, ofc depending on perspective.


> As long as it does something beneficial

You can't easily measure if something is beneficial. Which is precisely why a bunch of plants that people were taking before for different ailments were found to have absolutely no medical value when tried through a scientific method.

And in the age of social media, individual confirmation bias and a megaphone is the best way to promote non-science to hordes of people.


Placebo can provide actual benefit to an individual. Easing suffering, thus reducing stress levels, which in turn help body to function better.

But you are quite right, individuals with strong confirmation bias and a large social media following are harmfull.

Still, that does not mean individuals should not perform harmless experiments. Individuals should experiment. But they should not claim their findings as universal truths.


> Placebo can provide actual benefit to an individual.

It depends what you refer to when you talk about a placebo. What people call the "placebo effect" is in practice "regression to the mean" in most cases, which is the fact that you would get better over time even if you did absolutely nothing. You will notice that placebo 'effect' works best in contexts where the illness has a psychological component (mental illnesses and the like), but absolutely fail to show any effect at all in other contexts like viral infections.

> Individuals should experiment. But they should not claim their findings as universal truths.

I agree, but how can you prevent people from claiming that something worked for them if they are absolutely convinced of it. It's an unsolvable problem.


"how can you prevent people from claiming..."

Do I understand correctly that you oppose people searching holistic remedies to their ills because they might accidentally get better, and a percentage of these might accidentally turn into snake oil salespeople?


> that you oppose people searching holistic remedies to their ills

Nope, I am for individual freedoms as long as it happens in their private sphere.

> a percentage of these might accidentally turn into snake oil salespeople

the problem is that bullshit takes a lot more time to debunk that it takes to spread. So you end up with hoaxes, false claims, rumors, confirmation bias spreading through other people's minds with extreme speed because of how we communicate right now. And my point is that as long as you can't make people understand that "anecdotal evidence" means absolutely nothing, you can't stop this from happening: it means you will end up with bullshit spreading everywhere and good Science being ignored or simply drowned in a torrent of unfounded claims.


I used to be of the opinion that it doesn't affect me directly so I don't care. But as more of us don't care, it becomes more common place, and then our (more gullible) relatives start taking in this information and will not listen to you because everyones knows it works! Whatever "it" is.

So no, I believe that we must actively fight false information. Not "we" in an individual sense, but "we" as a society, and that means regulation.


Hard to determine if a certain practice is harmless or not.


Maybe there are more reliable ways to achieve the benefit for a greater number of people. Science offers an approach to discovering this, and the "why" - the theory - is what drives science.


I guess I care.

Yes it's beneficial if something works, but I want to know why it works too and not just believe in random pseudoscience. Also, determining if something really works is hard.

I want to understand the mechanism. If there's something true there then you may be able to use that directly, you can also avoid untrue things that are harmful (history is full of these harmful 'treatments'). [0]

Without this people just end up wearing energy crystals, while dismissing real medicine for homeopathic nonsense that can lead to death [1][2].

Humanity has used the scientific method to barely rise above the collection of hocus pocus explanations. It's worth the effort not to fall back into that. [3]

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloodletting

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Jobs#Health_problems

[2]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23882029

[3]: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/RgkqLqkg8vLhsYpfh/fake-causa...


Not knowing how it works does not make it pseudoscience. It is enough if you can show through double blind that it works. For quite a few established medications which work we do not known how they work.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/07/23/one-b...

Pseudoscience is if you do not test it scientifically if it works.


I think we agree?

Just because you don’t know how something works doesn’t mean it’s pseudoscience. You just might not understand the mechanism.

There’s a greater risk that something you think works actually doesn’t though if you don’t test it.

There’s also a greater risk that claims people make about things in this untested space are more likely to be false.

Part of the reason it’s important to test and understand the mechanism is that people are good at deluding themselves with all sorts of biases and made up false explanations.


There's a big difference between wearing crystals because you believe it improves your life, and doing a physical exercise that changes your mental state.

If one can't confirm changes in their own mental state, especially profound changes, I'd suggest that's a far bigger and more pressing problem than anything you've listed.


I'm sure people believe they confirm 'profound changes in their own mental state' from energy crystals too.

We can delude ourselves into believing anything. That's why we need to test things empirically in order to find out the truth.


> I'm sure people believe they confirm 'profound changes in their own mental state' from energy crystals too.

Not sure about you, but if someone tells me "I've been exercising lately and mentally I feel much better" I don't say "but does homeopathy really work" and wink at them.


There's a lot of evidence that exercising is healthy and helps people improve their mental state so that analogy doesn't work.

The point is if someone says they're getting a benefit from something that doesn't have a ton of evidence around it - my first instinct would be to be skeptical but curious.

When someone takes that skepticism and implies that the "far bigger and more pressing problem" is that I can't determine the obvious benefits it makes me more skeptical, not less.

How skeptical I am comes from how far it is from my priors. Breathing exercises being helpful seems likely, choosing energetic or restful based on which nostril you're breathing out of sounds like bullshit so I'm more skeptical by default.

If someone tells me they're breathing out of their right nostril to become more energized - I'd probably tell them that sounds made up.


It's weird though, because exercising physically can increase stress in the short term and can greatly elevate heart rate. Exercising is really unpleasant to me and I would really rather not do so.

The only reason I choose to exercise anyway is because of the people online and the scientific evidence saying that exercise is better for you in the long term. I certainly don't feel like it in the moment, and in fact sometimes worry if my heart is going to give out as I exercise. But if I am going to believe that exercise is beneficial overall, but that you can't experience the benefits it brings until it's too late to change things, I don't really know what else to do except listen to them and keep exercising, while getting over the unpleasantness and complete draining of energy and motivation to do things I'd rather do that it causes.

Maybe that's what some things in life come down to. It either comes down to eating diets like ones with plants prioritized and getting over the fact that they don't taste as pleasant as foods with refined sugars, or accepting the impact on your health by choosing the latter. Maybe some people just make their own peace with the taste of such foods, somehow.


I don't have a tactful way to say this - but perhaps you are exercising too hard?

It might be wiser to take a progressive approach - i.e. start with a five minute walk, the next day/week/month increase it to a ten minute walk or increase the pace.


If I were you I’d go to a clinic to check my heart health and ask a doctor whether or how much exercising is good for you.


> There's a lot of evidence that exercising is healthy and helps people improve their mental state so that analogy doesn't work.

There's actually a lot of research out there. Did you try to search for any? It's not scepticism to compare something you cannot believe because you haven't bothered to investigate, with well known falsities such as crystal healing.

Not only does the research support the existence of a nasal cycle where one nostril is dominant at different times, it also supports a different pathway to the brain and a different neurological response. On top of that, psychological research shows links between breathing patterns and emotional response, in both directions, and then there's the wealth of meditative research. This stuff isn't controversial.

From [Taste and Smell]:

> The FN model may also explain the observation by Sobel et al. [36] that, when performing an odor threshold test, humans sniff longer when using the nostril with the lower flow rate. (Subjects usually have different flow rates in their two nostrils because of cyclic changes in the size of their nasal cavities.)

From [Nature]:

> The flow of air is greater into one nostril than into the other because there is a slight turbinate swelling in one. The nostril that takes in more air switches from the left to the right one and back again every few hours

From [Stanford News]:

> Michael Leon, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California at Irvine said… [the] data suggest, that the olfactory system maximizes the ability of its distributed receptor neurons to encode differentially absorbing odors.

From [Measuring and Characterizing the Human Nasal Cycle]:

> Nasal airflow is greater in one nostril than in the other because of transient asymmetric nasal passage obstruction by erectile tissue. The extent of obstruction alternates across nostrils with periodicity referred to as the nasal cycle. The nasal cycle is related to autonomic arousal and is indicative of asymmetry in brain function. Moreover, alterations in nasal cycle periodicity have been linked to various diseases.

From [Hemispheric lateralization in the processing of odor pleasantness versus odor names]:

> These findings are consistent with previously demonstrated neural laterality in the processing of olfaction, emotion and language, and suggest that a local and functional convergence may exist between olfaction and emotional processing.

From [Respiratory feedback in the generation of emotion]:

> This article reports two studies investigating the relationship between emotional feelings and respiration. In the first study, participants were asked to produce an emotion of either joy, anger, fear or sadness and to describe the breathing pattern that fit best with the generated emotion. Results revealed that breathing patterns reported during voluntary production of emotion were (a) comparable to those objectively recorded in psychophysiological experiments on emotion arousal, (b) consistently similar across individuals, and (c) clearly differentiated among joy, anger, fear, and sadness. A second study used breathing instructions based on Study 1’s results to investigate the impact of the manipulation of respiration on emotional feeling state. A cover story was used so that participants could not guess the actual purpose of the study. This manipulation produced significant emotional feeling states that were differentiated according to the type of breathing pattern. The implications of these findings for emotion theories based on peripheral feedback and for emotion regulation are discussed.

I could go on.

As to meditative practices, there's been extensive research for nigh on 50 years now, and for the past 20 (at least, as far as I'm aware) they've been using fMRI scanners to provide objective results[Oser] on the link between meditation as a practice and mental state.

You just have to look.

[Taste and Smell] https://books.google.com/books?id=fuxS-p6bpuwC&pg=PA12

[Nature] https://www.nature.com/articles/46944

[Measuring and Characterizing the Human Nasal Cycle] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5053491/

[Stanford News] https://news.stanford.edu/news/1999/november10/smell-1110.ht...

[Hemispheric lateralization in the processing of odor pleasantness versus odor names] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12712833_Hemispheri...

[Respiratory feedback in the generation of emotion] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/0269993014300039...

[Oser] https://www.lionsroar.com/the-lama-in-the-lab/ I include this as it's a personal favourite of mine and covered more extensively in Daniel Golman's book, Destructive Emotions.


Thanks for the links, a lot of interesting stuff there.

I think this is actually a good example of the point I'm trying to make.

There appears to be an underlying mechanism here that's worth understanding that may have real effects. None of this suggests that left nostril 'relaxation' and right nostril 'energy' is a real thing. The closest may be that last link which I don't have access to.

The reason understanding the underlying mechanism is important is because it allows you to differentiate what could be real (potentially switching airflow in nostrils because "the olfactory system maximizes the ability of its distributed receptor neurons to encode differentially absorbing odors.") and what is pseudoscience "you could choose to be either energetic or restful by picking one nostril to breathe out of for awhile.".

The latter sounds suspicious to me and these links don't seem to really support it. I'm extra suspicious when there's a strong interest in motivated reasoning (yoga-affiliated people being bought into it) to find it correct. It doesn't mean it isn't true, but it's less likely to be so.

The cycle can still be a real thing, there may still be real effects, and the left/right relax/energy thing can still be nonsense. That's why understanding what's going on is useful.


Humanity has historically taken a trial and error approach to most things - medicine, engineering, cooking, etc. Advances in technology are usually the result of tinkering as opposed to directed research or science. The science usually comes later (if and when someone funds it) to explain why it works.

It's ugly, but it's how we usually lumber along. And yes, many mistakes and pseudoscience take place along the way.

I was recently reading how jet engines were developed even though no one really knew exactly how they worked (there were theories, of course).

This is the closest thing I could find on the topic online:

https://www.rutgers.edu/news/failure-leads-tech-advances-say...


I think we agree - trying things you think might work is a good place to start, then you can attempt to confirm that empirically.

Predictions have to start somewhere.

What bothers me about the comment I replied to was the hostility to trying to understanding the underlying mechanism. "As long as it does something beneficial who cares after all what the bias is?" is not a good position. That kind of thing leads to people doubling down when it turns out their pet hypothesis is actually shown to be wrong (not saying that's the case here).

It can also lead to people thinking they see benefits where none exist (or where the activity is even harmful), it can lead to people making up explanations (most of human history).

It's good to be willing to try new things, but also to have a healthy skepticism.


I am usually a skeptical person and am aware that there is a lot of pseudoscience floating around. But, I think that is not necessarily a bad thing. People try things and what works is later scrutinized and better understood in a scientific way if you will. What doesn’t work will get itself out of the way eventually. You are free to practice whatever you think is understood(and also be aware that current understanding is bound to change, sometimes it does take 180’ turns). But you risk missing out on things that are not yet understood and yet beneficial. Sure, all people are at risk of wasting their time with a quack theory or practice. Again, I dont think that is a bad thing, more people may become skeptical that way


Thanks - I think that's fair, but it doesn't necessarily get out of the way without casualties.

I'm bothered when something that is still uncertain is put forward as true, I think people are generally over confident where they should be less certain. Even this can be harmful in ways people don't expect [0].

It becomes really harmful though when stuff known to be false is pushed as true (conspiracy theories like not getting cancer treatment). This leads people to not pursue treatment they desperately need. In their case they won't have the opportunity to become more skeptical afterwards.

There's also the risk of political influence pushing certain things as true that aren't and real knowledge can be lost (though I think that's less likely to happen today).

In this specific breathing case, it's benefit being real or not is probably not that big of a deal - but the underlying value of wanting to understand why something is really true or not I think is important.

[0]: https://guzey.com/books/why-we-sleep/#the-potential-harm-don...


> Advances in technology are usually the result of tinkering as opposed to directed research or science.

In older times yes, but you can easily demonstrate that scientific progress was WAY faster once we developed actual methods to test things in a reliable way.


It's hard to pin scientific progress to reliable testing. We also had dramatic advances in communication, travel, collaboration, computing power, and access to education, for instance. Not to mention more and bigger wars which always moves things along in certain directions (for the wrong reasons, but nevertheless)


> pin scientific progress to reliable testing.

The dramatic advances you refer to happened after a time we developed reliable scientific methods.


As long as it does something beneficial who cares after all what the bias is?

I do. I hate being wrong about stuff.


Wrong about what exactly? I'd say I'm mostly a breathing skeptic, but if it makes you feel better, then... it makes you feel better and you aren't wrong for feeling better.


Wrong about what exactly?

If someone observes measurable benefits after (e.g.) breathing through one nostril for a while, I'd consider it important to know exactly why. Maybe there are important things about the mechanics of respiration that we haven't understood yet. Dismissing such phenomena with "If it feels good, who cares why?" seems counterproductive in the long run.

OTOH, if no one sees measurable benefits, then the various anecdotes from practitioners really are just bias in action, and (IMO) are not worth expending further thought on.


But even if you think you’re right you may be wrong. All current understanding is bound to change when better understanding is achieved. Sometimes things that are scientifically thought to work in a certain way take turns, sometimes going into opposite directions. So even if you think you understand something, it’s healthy to keep a bit of skepticism and a bit of open mind.


We don’t even understand the placebo effect, there is little hope in learning the truth in regards to human biology as it would be too complicated, expensive, and unethical to try.


That's only a problem if you are trying to generalise your discovery and say write a paper or sell a product about it. If it's just "a thing you do" and it makes you feel good, then biases don't really matter as much as the end result.


I suspect you learn less by doing nothing. This kind of advice is probably good for normal people, but the people who need it least seem to be the ones most paralyzed by it.


Reminds me of the President's rhetorical "What do you have to lose?", that he apparently hadn't thought through.


> With a lot of these things I would highly recommend to just try it. If it works for you, good. If not, don't do it. It doesn't cost anything and you won't harm yourself.

I strongly disagree with this line of thinking. If something is potent enough to deliver benefit, it can also be potent enough to deliver harm. You can't have it both ways.

Turns out breathing is rather psychoactive, and without proper educational context one can indeed induce or activate latent issues, anxiety or otherwise.

Just like with McMindfulness, I wish some of this kind of instruction required licensing.


You're over-reacting. Neither the benefits nor the harm is fast enough so that you don't have time to adjust. If you continue doing something despite it causing active harm, that's just on you (as in generally).


That assumes adverse reactions will have a gradual, reversible onset. By that token you could keep taking acetaminophen as long as you don’t feel like your liver is failing.


Breathing practice is the most simple thing in the world. Sit, breathe, relax - definitely doesnt need a license. Sounds like you’re confused of the purpose of it.


Just because it is simple in your experience doesn't mean that is universally true for everyone. Certainly not for anxiety disordered or PTSD suffering people for example.

See my reply to comment below which cites studies when these sort of practices backfire in a non-trivial fashion. Like I said, it is either too trivial as sit, breathe and relax which won't do much good, or it is potent enough to do some good in which case it also has the potential of doing some harm.


I have multiple problems with this statement. First, the problems you are describing are external to breathing. If you suffer from PTSD and get an episode at the grocery store, do you want to regulate grocery store visits also?

Second, breathing has multi-thousand year old legacy spanning multiple cultures and eras touting it's benefits. Why would you obtain your perspective from a click-driven Vice article referring to a study of 73 people instead of the infinitely more robust source of truth?


You're fighting several strawman arguments but I am still going to assume good faith.

> If you suffer from PTSD and get an episode at the grocery store, do you want to regulate grocery store visits also?

I am not talking about triggering based on some external stimulus. I am talking about a nilly-willy prescription of a pscyhoactive exercise that has a non-trivial chance of interacting/activating pre-existing conditions.

> Why would you obtain your perspective from a click-driven Vice article referring to a study of 73 people instead of the infinitely more robust source of truth?

My perspective doesn't come from the article, I merely put it there as it gives a readable summary to the otherwise terse scientific papers.

Regarding the particular study, that study has tons of citations to other studies and meta studies, a good chunk of which complains about *adverse effects are not sufficiently mentioned", which I'm doing here. I'm not claiming that the score is settled on this matter, but the fact that there is no talk on adverse affects deserves attention.

> Second, breathing has multi-thousand year old legacy spanning multiple cultures and eras touting it's benefits

So does psychedelic mushrooms or circumcision. The good thing about science is we can systemically study traditional practices instead of taking their word for it. I don't think tradition is an infinitely robust source of truth, especially in comparison to scientific knowledge. Nonetheless, I value traditional knowledge too, but you can't claim traditional information and its context have propagated to our day sufficiently well (e.g. is circumcision a rite-of-passage anymore?), including the knowledge/caution on what to do with adverse reactions.


I don't subscribe to scientism, so best end the debate here.


You could indeed end debating with the strawman.

Contrasting merits of scientific processes with traditional knowledge is not scientism. If anything claiming tradition is an infinitely robust source of knowledge is some sort of dogmatism.


You said that tradition doesn't stand scrutiny over time. It wouldn't be a huge leap to suggest you subscribe to the thought that science is the only way to approach any type of validation.

I don't agree with that statement, I think there are cases where the lab doesn't translate into real world and suggesting that scientific experiments are always the best representation of the real world is just naive, I-M-H-O.

Ergo, I don't see us agreeing on the topic and it is best left there.

Regarding the straw man spam - it would help if your claims were correct and not removed from context. I didn't suggest that all tradition is infinitely robust, I suggested tradition concerning breathing is more robust than the limited scope paper you referred to. Context matters.


> You said that tradition doesn't stand scrutiny over time

No, that is not what I said. I said knowledge transmission through tradition is lossy and as such it is not systematic, it doesn't carry context and it doesn't cover the fine print. In that, the content of a memetic proposition that made it to our day might as well have truth value, but it doesn't mean it is readily applicable by anyone who reads about it on the internet. Or we might have memetic behavior that is divorced from context (e.g. circumcision) and is questionable as to why we should follow it. That's why rigorous scientific study is important.

> I think there are cases where the lab doesn't translate into real world and suggesting that scientific experiments are always the best representation of the real world is just naive, I-M-H-O.

I have not suggested any of these things (and this will be 3rd time in a row I'll be bringing up you strawmanning.)

Lab science is not the only science, experimentation is not the only component of scientific method. Yes science can't explain a lot of things yet but science has the best methodology in working for an objective truth. So ignoring evidence science can produce, especially if it's conflicting with tradition, is going to be naive at best.

> I didn't suggest that all tradition is infinitely robust, I suggested tradition concerning breathing is more robust than the limited scope paper you referred to. Context matters.

I didn't suggest you said all tradition. I still stand by my argument that you are defending dogmatism of tradition, even in the limited context of breathing exercises. Besides, that paper is not the only source I've cited, breathing is studied in a multitude of psychological domains as I mentioned, so indeed context matters.

> Regarding the straw man spam

Please refrain from inflammatory language. You made your point that you don't think you're committing straw man, and I still think you do and that disagreement is fine. No need to retort underhanded attacks, let's keep it civil and intellectually honest.


[flagged]


Please familiarize yourself with hackernews guidelines https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Changing nothing can backfire too.

The problem with this line of thinking is to assume that inaction is not also a choice that affect you.


You don't go through your medicine cabinet and try everything there because "changing nothing" can backfire. You read/learn about the complications, side-effects, adverse reactions and make an informed decision based on that.

Inaction argument is a strawman, I'm not arguing for doing nothing at all, I am just against informal prescription of rather potent, psychoactive exercises without due respect, especially in the form of "just try it, can't do any harm". If you want to get serious with it, find people/sangha/teachers/therapists who know their stuff and train in that context. But assuming no harm can come while assuming benefits can come is a contradiction and wishful thinking.


No, but people frequently do change things like diet, sleeping patterns, exercise etc. on the basis of seeing whether they work for them.

And people often harm themselves immensely through inaction in the same areas.

People also change their breathing patterns all the time, or don't, without knowing what they're doing or not doing.

You're advocating a line of thinking that simply is not how most people live their lives, and never will be, because it would paralyse us.


>Turns out breathing is rather psychoactive, and without proper educational context one can indeed induce or activate latent issues, anxiety or otherwise.

You can also die from drinking too much water.


Source for second paragraph claim?


A good meta study is: Lindahl et al (2017). The varieties of contemplative experience: A mixed-methods study of meditation-related challenges in Western Buddhists. This vice article recaps it: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vbaedd/meditation-is-a-po...

I'll list just the titles of select deep dive citations from the first study to give an idea, you can find detailed citations in the paper itself;

- "Meditation-induced psychosis" (several with this title)

- "Mania precipitated by meditation: a case report and literature review."

- "Adverse effects of meditation: a preliminary investigation of long-term meditators."

- "The unveling of traumatic memories and emotions through mindfulness and concentration meditation: clinical implications and three case reports."

- "Meditation in association with psychosis"

- "Precipitation of acute psychotic episodes by intensive meditation in individuals with a history of schizophrenia"

- "Psychiatric complications of meditation practice."

This is a citation tree from just one study on meditation.

To be clear, I know the term meditation is not strictly equivalent to breathing exercises but definitely a good chunk covers & includes them; e.g most frequently practiced meditation style (vipassana), breathing sensation is the most common object of focus.

If you're interested in non-meditation studies, the term "relaxation induced anxiety" will bring a wider selection of papers. If you are interested in studies about psychoactivity of breathing, search for "panic disorder breathing" which has again tons of studies that investigate the link (contents of which doesn't necessarily limit to panic disordered populations).

And to be clear, I am not saying meditation or breathing exercises are bad. But they are potent. They can create altered states. And as such I am against bold claims like "they can do no harm, just do on your own". As studies above demonstrate, even with a proper educational context they can backfire. Especially considering the fact that the population segment that would be most interested in trying these exercises would likely to be the people already suffering from stress, anxiety or mental health problems.


- "cycling is dangerous"

- "hiking is dangerous"

- "swimming is dangerous"

- "running is dangerous"

- "cycling complications"

- "running complications"

...all day long - just append certain keywords and you'll find many articles and studies to feed your subjective belief and win arguments.

I did and talked with a lot of people doing mindfulness meditation and none of them warned me against it. I don't doubt your claims but I think they are exceptions and just about any activity can be found to be dangerous when looking at the exceptions.


> - "cycling is dangerous", "hiking is dangerous", "swimming is dangerous", "running is dangerous"

The difference is all of those are physical activities, and a reasonable person can easily infer the risks.

That's not the case with these prescriptions of rather potent, psychoactive exercises. A better comparison would be psychedelic mushrooms; it certainly wouldn't kill you but any reasonable prescription would have also cautioned about the importance of set & setting and to stay away from it if you have certain preconditions/proclivities.


Sorry you can’t compare breathing with mushrooms. It’s more like reading an intense book or watching a horror movie. There is a psychoactive effect but it’s pretty small.


> There is a psychoactive effect but it’s pretty small

The research I cited claims otherwise. If you have citations to back your claim, I'm happy to revise my position. And sure, it will be OK for a good majority of the population but it is not universally true to the extent of easily claiming "just try it, no harm can come" on a public forum. To give more context, 30% of US population will be clinically anxiety disordered at least once in their lifetime [1]. 17% to 53% of people will experience relaxation-induced anxiety [2].

[1] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disor... [2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/241686673_OA1401_Re...


Looking up just one of the papers in your example [1], and it looks far from convincing.

The paper is about the correlation between two separate manic episodes after meditation with two different methods. It further cites other papers - but in common for them is episodes occurring after meditation in patients with severe mental illnesses who in several cases are off their medication.

The paper goes on to give a case study of the patient, who had a manic episode the first time after a full weekend yoga retreat, and secondly again two months after entering a Zen retreat that she had been associated with for two years.

Notably there's no evidence of causation at all, of course, but more importantly there is also no reliable pattern of repetition despite her persistent involvement with meditation:

She was involved in meditation extensively over a long period before the second episode, she recovered without medication and re-entered the retreat. Of course we don't know if she further episodes, but that the case study only mentions two is a strong indication.

There's no discussion in the case study about other causes other than suggesting insomnia as a result of the practice as a possible cause. But the paper does not present any information to suggest any data on sleep deprivation was collected from the patient.

Maybe the other papers are more convincing, but this paper basically boils down to:

* Some reports of correlation have been made.

* Here's another example of correlation... Where the second incidents happened months into intensive practice, and with patient going back into intensive practice, yet no suggestion it happened more.

If anything, the low number of incidents the author uncovered has further convinced me of the safety of meditation. Maybe people with serious mental illnesses should be a bit careful.

[1] Mania precipitated by meditation: a case report and literature review, Graeme A. Yorston.


> Try it. there is not much to lose.

And since you can't really measure things well with n=1 you end up with confirmation bias at the end of the day.


Confirmation bias or actual personal discovery.

I don’t see what is so controversial about this. Lots of people take up exercising as a lifestyle and say they are much better for it. I don’t see what saying ‘yes but there is only one you, maybe you would have felt better without the exercise in this span if time...’ - which means statistics 101 really is not blindly applicable to all venues life. Also why bayesian statistics are sometimes much better in real life situations...


> Confirmation bias or actual personal discovery.

And you would not be able to actually figure out which one it is.


Do you constantly measure your friendships or family? Most things in life go by instinct or how they make us feel.


A truly practical approach that can be stretched/applied to other fields of life, including business, relationships, etc.

+1


That’s how most of life is. Do you get scientific measurements before having friends or having a family? Most of what we do is highly subjective. We are not as rational as we like to think.


It's not true that it won't harm you if not done properly.

Please learn it from professionals or friends who are already well versed in the practice if you are new to it.


Absolutely. You do need professional who understands the benefits and potential side effects. If done wrongly, it can mess things up.

Anecdotal, but I tried anulum vilom ten years back as a remedy for general anxiety, went overboard with no proper guidance, and my BP shot up. It took me a while to understand that the key is to go slow and increase your practice slowly.


I haven't tried the one nostril approach except briefly in yoga class, but you can control your energetic/restful activation level by controlling the length of inhalation and exhalation.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201...

"Box breathing" https://quietkit.com/box-breathing/


> Naturally we breath out of one nostril at a time

I don't understand how anyone can make that statement with a straight face. Unless one nostril is blocked, we use both simultaneously. There's no balance to be gamed.


That's not actually true. If you research it, you'll find that most people's nostrils alternately dilate and contract (the tissues reduce/swell). Most of us breathe primarily through only one nostril at a time, and it switches approximately every half hour. This is entirely unconscious and we're generally not aware of it.

There is a little bit of airflow in the constricted nostril, but nowhere near comparable to the other. You can test this by covering up your nostrils individually and comparing how easy it is to breathe through them. Then wait a half hour and try it again. (Note that a minority of people do not have this.)

However, this is not something you can consciously control or override, any more than you can override contractions in your intestine.


Came here to say the same. I was completely unaware of the nasal cycle until I got further into my meditation practice, but you totally can notice which nostril is taking in more air if you practice training your awareness on it. It was surprising to me when I first noticed it.

One of my yoga teachers has us find the one that is currently dominant in the cycle before we practice nadi shodhana pranayama, and then select the starting nostril based on that.


Thank you and the others who replied. I learned something new today.


Wow. I've noticed this my entire life but just thought it was chronic allergies.


I guess this explains why every time I have a cold, my nostrils alternate being blocked and unblocked.


> This is entirely unconscious and we're generally not aware of it.

I wonder if I'm unusual in that I can consciously control which nostril is open or closed. Most of the time the switching from side to side is unconscious but if I concentrate, I can cause it to happen consciously. This is really useful when I have a cold and a blocked nostril and I want to get some relief when blowing my nose doesn't help - I just focus on allowing that side of my sinuses to open and after a few minutes it will happen.


> (Note that a minority of people do not have this.)

I'm probably one of them then, because I've tested this on and off for years whenever someone makes the claim, and it's never true for me.

It's just really annoying how many people say with absolute certainty that everyone does it.


It’s more like one nostril is high-velocity and the other is low-velocity, not that one is completely blocked. The evolutionary reason is thought to be that it aids the perception of low PPM volatile organic compounds (i.e. bad smells = rot, toxic chemicals) because the ‘blocked’ nostril is used as a sense chamber which lets the air spend more time within, thus increase the effective sensitivity of your sense of smell.

If you do not have this behaviour (which can disappear with certain neurological diseases or just idiopathically not exist) you also likely have a reduced sense of smell.


Can confirm that I "smell" through one nostril at a time. I can smell more sensitively than others (for example, realise that milk is rotten before others do). I have noticed that when I try blocking one of my nostrils, my sense of smell is considerably lower, and it is not always the left nostril or always the right nostril. It kind of alternates, and I don't know the pattern. It might be that both nostrils alternate doing the task of smelling at different times.


Yep, one of my nostrils always feels blocked but my fiancée’s nostrils are always wide open on both sides. I’m practically green with envy. Only being able to breathe using half of your nose is frustrating.



It's weird how much we take for granted without ever expecting it to be different for others. I thought you guys were just screwing with me re: having an alternating congested nostril. Like, I only experience that during severe nasal congestion, and it seems mostly to stick with one side or the other depending on which side I'm laying on.

It never even occurred to me that people would experience something like that _all the time_!


Same, unless I’m sick my nostrils stay even.


I still don't get it. Do these people not blow their nose?


Just pay attention to it during the day. It alternates left to right with a short time in the middle when they are both open.


I literally spent most of the day after reading this yesterday testing, and they were identical (or near enough as made no difference). Today, same thing.

That's my point - you probably never thought it was any other way, and I never thought it was any other way, and we're both just like "wait, what? you LIVE like that?" That fascinates me! I think the last time I experienced this was the blue/black white/gold dress thing or when I first found out some people wipe standing up and some people wipe sitting down and everyone is shocked when they find this out for the first time.


It’s nothing to do with mucus. The size of the airway physically changes over time.


I went digging into that Wikipedia page and found a couple of interesting papers:

"The Ultradian Rhythm of Alternating Cerebral Hemispheric Activity" https://doi.org/10.3109/00207459309000583

"Effect of uninostril yoga breathing on brain hemodynamics: A functional near-infrared spectroscopy study" https://dx.doi.org/10.4103%2F0973-6131.171711

"Selective Unilateral Autonomic Activation: Implications for Psychiatry" https://doi.org/10.1017/S1092852900021428

My takeaway: The nervous system is super complicated and has various rhythms. For example the circadian rhythm makes you sleepy at night and alert during the day. There are a bunch of other rhythms that are not yet well studied. The nervous system alternates activity in left and right sides of the body on a rhythm of about 1.5 hours. The nasal cycle is part of this rhythm. One can influence this rhythm by forcing the body to breathe through one nostril.

"Klein, Pilon, Prosser, and Shannahoff-Khalsa (1986) assessed cognitive perfor- mance during different phases of the nasal cycle. They observed significant rela- tionships between the pattern of nasal airflow and spatial and verbal performance. Right nostril dominance correlated with enhanced verbal performance, or left brain activity, and left nostril dominance correlated with enhanced spatial performance, again indicating that the hemispheres alternate with the phases of the nasal cycle."

"Leconte and Lambert (1988) demonstrated that subjects who undergo a test of immediate memory every 25 min with two modalities (semantic and graphic) present a fluctuation in performance with a periodicity of about 100min. The two modalities were in opposite phase."

If breathing can reduce emotional problems for some people, then we could possibly predict this effect by measuring peoples' nasal cycles and hemisphere EEG rhythms. I imagine a typical doctors visit would start out with: 1) filling out the questionnaire, 2) measuring weight, temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure, and then 3) wearing the EEG helmet with nostril sensors for a minute.


Yep, I've always had this. I knew it wasn't super uncommon, but I had no idea that I was in the majority!


I use knowledge of this to help me sleep: when I experience nasal breathing issues, I set up, adjust side I am sleeping on, and change my posture to affect the blood-flow to my head. The less constriction, the easier it is to breathe. (don’t need nose strips!)


So weird. My clear nostril just flipped a few minutes ago. I can't believe I never knew about this. Do you know how many times I dug around to clear obstructions out of my nose because I was only able to breathe from one nostril?


Congested doesn’t mean fully blocked right?


There are different degrees of congestion from light to fully blocked. When I was 14 I was 80% congested until i turned 20. I had to have some nose drops or I’d be lightheaded from poor breathing.

What solved it? A trick that an old doctor told me to do. With one hand hold with thumb on the soft palate and another finger (index or ring) on the forehead where the nose meets the forehead in a grip. Then jiggle the grip. The skull is made out of bones that are not fully connected so a jiggle does move the bones around and releases differential pressure in sinuses. That fixed me


My partner has some sinus congestion issues and we’ e been trying to find a remedy since forever.

We want to try this thing but want to make sure we’re trying it correctly. Have you encountered a more thorough explanation of this technique, preferably in a video?


Somethink like this except that it is done with the tongue and a finger:

https://invisiverse.wonderhowto.com/how-to/clear-your-stuffy...

I need to clarify that i did not have a sinus infection though, i had a persisting rhinitis for which doctors could not provide anything else but prescribe over the nose drops or flonaise


Thanks for the tip, we’ll try it out. Yeah no doctor managed to find the cause of the inflammation yet, even after years of tests. Every doctor is like “yeah you should be fine” its kind of infuriating.


Watched a program on TV where a professor demonstrated stereoscopic olfactory ability. A person was blindfolded and knelt on a grassy area where an invisible smell trail was laid out. The person was able to track the trail because of this ability.

The key part is your sinus cavity slightly closes one nostril creating a differential air flow. This difference allows us to figure out the direction the smell via the difference in intensity between nostrils which our brain uses to sense direction.


Brilliant! I had no idea!


Cover each nostril in turn and breathe in through your nose. One nostril will be easier to breathe in through. Now try it again a few times over a day.

I believe the reason your body does this is to allow your olfactory system to pick up a greater range of smells: Some chemicals are easier to pick up when the air is traveling slower.


I have always one nostril blocked (not completely thought) and according to "Kundalini Tantra" book that I read it's usual state for most people. In the book it was connected to the activity of brain laterals (one is dominant) and forcing yourself to breath equally through both nostrils will make both halves more balanced. Not sure if the explanations were correct, but the practice itself provided me with some really high states. Breathing is extremely powerful tool.


That is totally not correct. I thought I was an anomaly until I heard a podcast by the Breathe author. I've noticed it for years, but I always attributed it to allergies (I attribute everything anomalous to them, because they are such a huge influence in my life).

What is totally confusing is what causes the flip from one nostril to another. I have no idea what the mechanism is.


It will switch naturally during the day several times, as long as you get enough rest, excercise, don't smoke, etc.

It's actually very easy to switch it. You can lean to towards the side (think yoga triangle pose) that has the open nostril.

You can place pressure in the corresponding armpit for the same effect.

Medidation, concentration, certain ways of breathing will all also affect the flow.

I'm sure you can determnine the various other physical ways, based on these, to swap nostrils.


I can easily control this by laying down, then switching from my right side to my left side. Whichever side is on top is the side I’ll breathe from.


May want to check into nasal septum deviation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasal_septum_deviation


I’m not sure you are paying any attention to your body. That our air preparation apparatus (i.e. the nasal cavity) would run at reduced capacity when less air is needed makes perfect sense and is a well established medical fact. Just google “nasal cycle”.


One of my nostrils is almost always partially restricted. Yes, I have airflow through both of them, but it's almost never equal. Right now easy breathing through the left with some resistance in the right. It slowly shifts back and forth throughout the day.

It's very obvious when I have a cold. I often have one fully-plugged nostril and one not, which also shifts back and forth seemingly randomly.

I think what I'm describing is actually the norm but I haven't exactly surveyed the population.


No we don't. Right now my left nostril is active. Read about the nasal cycle:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasal_cycle


Anecdotal but I checked my nostrils and I was currently only breathing out of my left. Not sure if thats regular for me


Can you clarify whether or not you have a background in medicine and/or deep understanding of physiology?


Because it's true? Did you bother to pay attention to your own breathing for a breath or two before posting this?


It could be constructive application of the placebo effect. Try it.


The placebo effect is magnified by spending one's own cash on the treatment.


Indeed. I'm happy to support placebo enablement.


I’ve found that doing it has helped me sleep when I’m restless at night - I think it’s more about giving you something concrete to focus on in order to make you more conscious of your body’s sensations, not necessarily something special about breathing through specific nostrils.


i.e. meditation


Here are a couple studies I just googled

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3681046/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728953/

As far as personal experience, I find breathing exercises should be slow and deep, generally with breath retention that is extended over time, as opposed to just deep breathing in and out at a 'regular' speed. Traditional yoga usually emphasizes this (as opposed to the new-age westernized yoga). I think many people who find no results just breathe deep but dont slow it down. You should feel like your breath has been 'stretched' by the time you're done. Id also find a good teacher if you're serious because you can definitely overdo it/do it wrong.


This helps validate me. I swear every yoga class I've been to I'm breathing at like 3/4 speed of everyone else in the class and so the flow moves too fast for me.


> I swear every yoga class I've been to I'm breathing at like 3/4 speed of everyone else in the class and so the flow moves too fast for me.

Heh, you're doing better than me: every yoga class I've been in (more than a few) I've lost track of the breathing in the first few minutes, but whenever I do manage to tune back into it I always find it way slower than what feels natural.

Maybe I should make more of an effort, rather than being like "welp, I can't breathe like that, back to just my body do what it wants".

This even after going multiple times a week for 6 months.


It comes from yoga, alternate nostril breathing. There is no scientific basis for the regulation claim afaik and the idea here is that both nostrils are linked to nadis, energy channels. While the nasal cycle does seem brain connected, Ive seen no proof it actually works upon the nervous system (as claimed) apart from the fact the practice is relaxing.


This is interesting and I'd love to hear some kind of real-science debunking (as I'm sure it would be the case)... or conversely, showing someone (via video and some kind of monitoring device) directing air in and out of one or the other nostril at will.


You use your hand to clamp down one nostril. Lookup Nadi Shodhana.


Damn... you just took a pencil to space with that comment. :)


> In essence, you could choose to be either energetic or restful by picking one nostril to breathe out of for awhile.

Why not just try it? This is such a simple and safe experiment. You can do it and generate your own conclusions.


"Just try it" is interesting and can be fun. But it is a messy path to truth, because we humans are inherently terrible data collection machines. Likely the OP recognizes this and was looking for more objective data.


Google "Swar Vigyan". Instead of looking for "studies", try these things on yourself for 30 days or so and journal what you experience.

Or try this -

Take breath with right nostril only - you'll feel warm or more energetic. Later take breath with left nostril only - you'll feel cold or more relaxed.

You can gamify this system when you certain type of tasks.

Or ask any old-school Yoga/Meditation teacher, preferably someone with roots in India.


“Differential effects of uninostril and alternate nostril pranayamas on cardiovascular parameters and reaction time“

by Ananda Bhavanani Bhavanani, Meena Ramanathan,1 R Balaji,2 and D Pushpa2

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4097918/


This practice exists in traditional eastern Yoga - breathing out of one nostril and in with the other. A similar explanation is given about it having a calming and energetic effect.

I know that doesn't provide the evidence you were looking for, but hopefully it provides some context on where this might have originated from.


I've dropped my blood pressure significantly in minutes with diaphragm breathing. Measured it. - Also, if you face the palms of your hands up, it mysteriously opens the lungs and allows for deeper more relaxed breathing.

As to your comments about the author's claims, I too am weary about a few.


I mean, you have a dominant hand. Doing everything with the non dominant will affect your experience.

You have a dominant eye. Focusing on the other eye will also affect your experience.

Why not a dominant nostril?


I think the article lacks one more "standard" claim for this type of pseudo-science writings: slow breathing cures cancer.


The branch of yoga that covers this is swara yoga. There are books on it. Maybe worth investigating if you're interested.


why don’t you simply try it and see?


How do you handle the placebo effect?


If you are not writing a paper, building a product, or treating it as scientific knowledge does it really matter?


Just don't handle it. The placebo effect tells us that some things that have no reason for working, work anyways.


That's not what it is at all. The placebo effect tells us that the thing we were doing did not cause the measured effect. If it's a placebo effect causing us to feel calmer, we could as easily hold a can of beans and be calmer if we believed it to cause us to become calmer.


No the placebo effect tells us that if we ask some people if some things are working, they tell us that they are working, when those things are not in fact working.


> Hindus considered breath and spirit the same thing

It's funny, because I just realised that πνεύμα(pneuma)/spirit in Greek has the same root as πνεύμων(pneumon)/lung: the verb πνέω(pnéo), which means I breathe.

This is not Mr Portokalos talking from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, people: πνέω is traced to the older Indo-European stem pnew- , and the whole point of my comment is that there is a lot of heritage in language through the eons from older cultures and civilizations.

Trivia: the suffix -μα (like in the words pragma, dogma, trauma etc) generally means “the result or the carrier of the verb's actions”, so like pragma (“thing”, what is/has been made/done), dogma (what one believes in; the firmness of the belief is irrelevant to the ancient word), trauma (“wound”; the result of being wounded), pneuma would be what is being breathed; and there's another connection to old roots: alcohol is «οινόπνευμα» (spirit/fumes of the wine), and alcoholic drinks are called “spirits”.

Fun stuff :)


The English words "respire" and "spirit" have the same root, too.


Latin spirare and spiritus respectively. Afaik spiritus came from the verb and literally meant breath in addition to the figurative meaning.


Atmen in German (breath) and Atman in Sanskrit (breath, spirit) have the same origin.


Fascinating. Indo-European languages share many word roots. Word that remain similar tend to be numbers and family members (mum, dad, brother etc)


In Portuguese the root “pneu” by itself means “tire” (as in a car tire).

Fun stuff indeed!


A tyre (or tire is) a wheel dressing, the word being a truncation of attire. This can be any final dressing of a wheel.

An inflatable rubber pneumatic tire is a subclass of tire, and truncation or abbreviation to pnue is as good as any.

Locomotive wheels on trains have steel tyres.

https://www.etymonline.com/word/tire


That's because it is a contraction of "pneumático" which links to the same root as the rest of Indo-European pnew- etymology.


No one seems to have mentioned Wim Hoff here (https://www.wimhofmethod.com/). He’s got some claims that verge on the suspicious but the actual method itself is worth doing purely if you’re an interested sort.

Before, I can do about 40 seconds held on an out breath, after, about 2:40. That’s kinda interesting.

I’d also recommend trying it if you’re a meditator. Do a WH session first, then sit. It’s really great for finding mind space: a bit buzzy, a bit like a natural high, but for me it meshes pretty well with a breath following meditation.


Are you referring to the hyperventilation technique? I ended up at one of his workshops randomly and tried that.

It’s actually an old technique to increase the ability to hold the breath. The hyperventilation clears carbon dioxide from the system (hypocapnia). That’s what the buzz is.

Never ever ever ever ever do this underwater or you have a serious risk of death: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freediving_blackout#Shallow_wa...

Hof did not warn of this at the time, though I believe he does now after someone died using the technique while swimming.

As for the cold resistance, Hof’s twin brother Andre displayed the same physiological traits that Hof has, despite not having undergone the same training: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal...

The one interesting thing I have seen related to Hof is that he apparently was able to suppress the immune response to an endotoxin. Though it would be interesting to see that same study done on his twin.

This is a reasonably good article: https://www.pepijnvanerp.nl/2016/01/wim-hof-method/#andre

I think Hof is well intentioned, sincere, a poor communicator, and prone to both mystical thinking but also interested in scientific verification.


yeah all these techniques are ancient in origin. Revived for every new generation.

Pranayama is at least a thousand years old and encompasses all of this. And many of the foundational texts refer to even older practices.


I remember this technique also releases some stress hormone. This could indeed solve some health symptoms (for example cortisone is used agains astma). But I'm not sure what the long term consequence is of always releasing this stress hormone into your system.


The claims do sound pretty loopy at first blush, but there have been several studies at this point, and the science PDF they host on his website is pretty interesting.

https://explore.wimhofmethod.com/wp-content/uploads/ebook-th...

Edit: The PDF is actually a bit out of date, the more recent studies are summarized here: https://www.wimhofmethod.com/science


The article mentions the first class the author took taught them Sudarshan Kriya, which is a particular kriya that the Art of Living Foundation teaches. From what I understand a large part of the kriya involves bhastrika pranayama, which is pretty much what the beginning Wim Hof method is, except he adds a kumbhaka (breath retention/hold) at the end of the 30 breath cycle. I appreciate what Wim Hof is doing, but a lot of these techniques have quite a long history in yoga.


What I find nice about his technique, is that it is much simpler than yoga and pranayama. He does not, for example, emphasise inhaling or holding or exceeding for a particular count of seconds. I find that it is easier to perform the Wim Hof technique because of this.

The breathing technique which is closest to Wim How is that of Tummo. You can find videos of this on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUQ-SV092GM


I’ve never tried Wim Hof’s techniques — I’d like to — but I have practiced bhastrika a good amount and do nadi shodhana every morning before meditation. Does his technique really resemble tummo? I’ve tried to find a tummo teacher (haven’t found one), but I’ve read “The Bliss of Inner Fire” and from what I understand a fundamental part of it involves mula and uddiyana bandhas being engaged in conjunction with the “vase” breath. Does Wim teach these things? I’ve seen photos of him practicing and he’s definitely doing uddiyana bandha, but I’d be surprised if he teaches that, it requires deep transverse abdominis activation to do. I only started getting that awareness in that layer of muscle after a couple years of yoga practice.

If he’s not teaching the bandhas then the technique really is just bhastrika with retentions. It’s a totally great practice, but I’d say it’s just the beginning step in the path of pranayama practice.


You make a great point. I think you are right in your classification. But the basic point in my comment was that the Wim Hof technique is simpler than Pranayama, and is highly beneficial in itself. Pranayama is very technical, and I am always worried that I am "doing it wrong".

The YouTube channel Medlife Crisis, run by a practicing cardiologist in the UK, did a fairly long video reviewing the Wim Hof method and the science surrounding it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6EPuUdIC1E


I've made it to 3:40 at times, usually on my second round. Committed meditator and I often start with a round of some kind of breathwork.


I'd second that Wim Hof's breath-work works for me, too.


This article is very relevant to what I've recently experienced. I haven't experienced the sweating but I've experienced the serenity that follows controlled breathing.

I'm reading an English translation of Ramana Maharshi's Upadesa Sara with commentary and verses 11-14 talk about controlling the breath (pranayama). A few relevant points made in those verses:

* Controlling your breath can help quieten the mind.

* There are such things as harmful breathing patterns so it's important to seek the guidance of experts to avoid them.

* The simplest breathing exercise that's easy to do right without an instructor is to observe the breath as it is.

I've made a conscious effort to observe the breath randomly throughout the day and it has a calming effect. These past few days have felt good. Observing the breath before sleep has made it easier to fall asleep.

FWIW, the verses also mention that, as far as being serene is concerned, pranayama is a short term solution to a long term problem (and the gist of Upadesa Sara is on the long term solution but I digress).


I'm prone to anxiety, and find myself hyperventilating often. Is this what you mean by "harmful breathing patterns"?

I've tried the "box breathing" with little luck, but have adapted a version where the exhale is 2-3x longer than the inhale. (inhale for 2 seconds, hold it a couple seconds, exhale slowly for 4-6 second, hold again).

I've also found better luck at inhaling into my belly, instead of letting my rib cage expand. It seems to release the tension/anxiety that I'm holding in my chest better.


> I'm prone to anxiety, and find myself hyperventilating often. Is this what you mean by "harmful breathing patterns"?

I meant "practicing breathing exercises incorrectly" (and I see now that's what I should've written in the first place, thanks for pointing that out). Upadesa Sara doesn't expand upon what it means to practice breathing exercises incorrectly or mention what the side effects are. Much of Upadesa Sara is concise so much is left up to the reader to reason or learn about.

After I read your comment, I spent too much time thinking about how I breath (whether thru the belly or chest) and started breathing weird haha. After a few hours, I figured out that I mostly breathe through the belly. I think. Anyways, genuinely happy to hear you found something that works for you.


I once ended up intensely enjoying my breath through the night (Did not sleep). I don’t recommend it. I wonder if that’s a type of discouraged breathing.


Try Headspace guided meditations if you haven't already. Many of them focus specifically on controlled breathing using your stomach.


thank you for the recommendation, looking at it now


I find that chest breathing increases my anxiety and whenever I am stressed I find myself breathing shallow breaths through the chest. As soon as I notice that I can slowly make it go away by breathing slower and deeper and just taking a short break from whatever I am doing.


I’ve found box breathing to be useless at best. There are better alternatives in Nestor’s book


> I've made a conscious effort to observe the breath randomly throughout the day and it has a calming effect.

If and when you’re able to, do attend a free 10-day introductory Vipassana meditation course (see dhamma.org for locations and schedules). The practice starts with observing the breath, and then moves on from that.

This course requires the participants to be silent for the 10 days, and has some other restrictions too. Some people find that impossible to deal with. So do consider that and also any emotional or mental health issues/barriers that may be a deterrent to participation.


> Observing the breath before sleep has made it easier to fall asleep.

Every night when I go to bed, I deliberately slow my breathing.... I find that it immediately gets me into a meditative state and more likely fall into a hypnagogic state


Conscious breathing and conscious hearing are both techniques for practicing mindfulness (some kind of meditation). It's really overwhelming how it can calm your mind, when practiced regularly.


I have found breathing exercises to strengthen my diaphragm hugely helpful for acid reflux. I lie down with weights on my abdomen and breathe from the diaphragm for about 10 minutes a day. I’ve been able to stop PPIs completely by doing this regularly.


Do you have more info on this? I’ve suffered from GERD for a long time now and have found ways to mitigate the effects but this seems like an interesting potential treatment.


I can’t find the video I followed originally but what I do is pretty simple. I lie on the floor with one hand on my chest and one hand on my belly (just below the sternum). Then I breathe paying attention that only the lower hand moves, ie that I’m using my diaphragm. I put the weights (small metal plates) under the lower hand to add resistance. I recall seeing some papers explaining the mechanism being related to how the diaphragm kind of wraps around the oesophageal sphincter, so strengthening it helps it close.


Thank you, super helpful. Definitely going to give this a shot.


Not the same thing, but I believe the parent commenter because I’ve seen multiple studies done where it was found that breathing exercises seemed to help with reflux: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3807765/


Nice, I'll give this a read. Thanks


Where do you put the weights? Do you have any additional information about this?


> We’ve become conditioned to breathe too much, just as we’ve been conditioned to eat too much.

How is one conditioned to breathe too much? We eat too much because there is so much available to us and it's engineered (by trial and error) to be as delicious as possible. That has not been done to air.


> people with anxieties or other fear-based conditions typically will breathe way too much. So what happens when you breathe that much is you're constantly putting yourself into a state of stress. So you're stimulating that sympathetic side of the nervous system

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/05/27/8629631...

> you can over breathe when people at a gym or when people are jogging you see them really going to get the maximum amount of oxygen in that's not what is happening to your body so you are offloading the co2 by offloading too much co2 you're causing constriction in your circulation

https://youtu.be/zWQxNoqKE6E?t=786


I heard Nestor's interview with Joe Rogan, was intrigued and I decided to try it on my runs (~7 miles 2-3x per week), where I typically breathe through my mouth.

While running I breathed exclusively through my nose. My expectation was that I wouldn't be able to sustain it for the entire duration of the run. Surprisingly I was able to.

Overall I felt less winded that I typically do when breathing through my mouth. I thought my overall pace and/or avg heartbeat might be slower when breathing nasally but, according to my activity tracker, that's not the case. The other thing I noticed is that the 'runner's high' I typically get after a run was somewhat muted when breathing nasally.

I'd love to see more research in this area. I wonder if I'm depriving my brain of needed oxygen or if there are benefits to getting more CO2 than usual.


I never get runners high, but have always attributed that to me just being weird, as usual. Ever sunce I was little I have a habit, reflex, or whatever one should call it, to breath quite slowly and deliberately during any extended exercise. Never thought it could be related, but maybe it is?


That first one feels very chicken and egg - if you're anxious your sympathetic nervous system is going without the breathing. Can breath be used to relax you? Absolutely, but that's as much about focusing the brain on the breathing instead of the anxious thoughts as anything else.


It's a reasonably well established principle of psychology (real science, not pop-sci) that a surprising amount of what you perceive to be your emotional state is mediated through your body. That is, you experience a stressor, so the "low level" portions of your brain activate bodily reactions to that stress, and what your high-level brain perceives as stress is actually the bodily reaction rather than the original stressor. Exerting such control as you can on your body (since it is non-zero, but not total either) is a legitimate way to control your (perceived) emotional state, which then feeds back into the entire system.

(This also factors in to how hard it is for some people to figure out why they are stressed; the part of the brain trying to work that out isn't necessarily as connected to the stressor as you might intuitively think.)

I've been having some low-level morning sleep paralysis lately (it has come and gone my entire life, & it has never been remotely as bad as I've heard some people describe); recently I've discovered an easy way out of it is to just hold my breath (or really, just stop inhaling), which triggers just enough stress to break through the paralysis. YMMV.


I had sleep paralysis as a child once in a while (which isn't uncommon), but as an adult I only get it after a period where when I've consumed cannabis with some regularity, then stopped.

It may or may not apply to you, but my friends that have sleep paralysis say this anecdote holds true for them as well.


Similarly, I get it if I've been drinking a few days in a row, then stop. Both of these drugs suppress REM sleep so my theory is that the sleep paralysis is a rebound effect.


I went snorkelling for the first time, in Mauritius. Flat water, no fear to speak of. But I was breathing incorrectly through the snorkel. Which one does the first time they snorkel. Overly deep, heavy breaths. Suddenly my heart was racing, and I went into a panic. It felt like I couldn’t breath at all. I started hyperventilating, breathed in some water, and started to get tetany which of course made everything worse.

This was all brought on by my breathing wrong. Not out of stress. Simply because the snorkel messed with my normal rhythm, and caused accidental hyperventilation.


Breathing is directly connected to the autonomic nervous system. Inhaling activates your sympathetic nervous system speeding up your heart rate and increasing the amount of electrodermal activity in your skin. Exhaling activates the parasympathetic nervous system slowing down your heart rate and decreasing the amount of electrodermal activity in your skin.

You can measure it with HRV and skin conductance sensors.


Anxiety is irrational. addressing your physical symptoms in the moment is FAR superior to being introspective. Save that for your personal retrospective after the anxiety subsides.


This concept that people breath too much when exercising never really made sense to me. I generally do believe it because I have experienced it myself, but why would the body default to a less effective form of breathing? Shouldn't we feel that breathing more steadily through our nose is more natural than trying to take big gulps of air when running?


> We eat too much because there is so much available to us and it's engineered (by trial and error) to be as delicious as possible.

People's reasons for consuming more calories than they expend are orders of magnitude more complex than that.


Mouth breathing or chest breathing. When you breath from your chest you take more breaths and if it is through your mouth you often over oxygenate.

When breathing (normal) it's important to use the nose to both inhale and exhale. It helps regulate the amount of oxygen you take in (keeps your mouth from getting dry).

You should also try to breath from your abdomen/stomach instead of your chest. Abdominal breathing creates a stronger respiratory system and core where chest breathing creates a weaker one (my observations).


Mimicing others growing up. We know that even adults mimics each others breathing patterns, I think it's safe to assume a baby/child will try to mimic parents/care takers breathing patterns.


Probably something to do with shallow breathing so you inhale and exhale more often the one should without maximizing oxygen intake per breathe nor efficiently regulating oxygen/co2.


But how could we be "conditioned" to breath in a certain way? It reads like a conspiracy to me but maybe that's not what they meant?

To me, breathing is a highly personal thing, I doubt there is any outside force able to change how we breathe for the worse. I just don't see the attack vector. We breathe how we feel we need to breathe.


The idea is to control breathe for different affects.

"We breathe how we feel we need to breathe". The key word is feel. Change your breathe change the way you feel


>But how could we be "conditioned" to breath in a certain way?

bad posture, overweight, too little exercise, too much stress. Not much of a stretch to think that the behaviour that gives countless of people snoring, backpain, or high BP may also negatively effect how we breathe.


Same way as you can walk or run in a harmful way, it maybe that the way you are breathing is sub-optimal.


It's the corporations, and big Pharma, and the Pentaverate.


Big Air


I miss the 90s and early 2000s where Big Air was just about extreme sports. Hahaha.


I've done a lot of breathing exercises due to freediving. I think the main benefit for me was that it's almost like meditating.

While lying there and breathing up or holding my breath, my mind is completely clear. No thoughts, just staying as relaxed as possible focusing on my diaphragm. No scrolling on my phone thinking about my day, nothing. Just relaxing. Except the last minutes when the body screams at you to breathe because of the co2 buildup, heh.

But not sure if there's anything more to it than that? I don't do it as often anymore, but get the same focus from working out.


I wonder every time I see things like this whether more conventional exercise will also do the same thing. I'm a recreational runner, and as I become more fit, I notice that my body is capable of entering deeper and deeper states of relaxation. When I go to sleep at night, my breathing and heart rate slow to rates that I never could have sustained before getting in shape. Being conscious and in control of my breath is important, especially at high altitude. And a long run out in nature definitely puts me in a meditative state.

I wonder if this kind of conventional exercise might provide more "bang for your buck" than just controlled breathing in isolation.


There's a great book called Bird Therapy - https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43804073-bird-therapy - where the author talks about how birdwatching helped enormously with his mental health. He talks briefly at one point about two runners who "birdwatch" while running, and who find the same kind of meditative peace that he does from a long walk with birdwatching points along the way. I've only just started trail running, but I find the mix of nature and running definitely multiplies the benefits of exercise and meditation rather than just adding together. (That is, if there aren't too many people around - I live in a relatively crowded part of the country unfortunately, so despite being surrounded by lovely countryside there are often quite a few people about!)


I think it makes sense you would be able to enter deeper states of relaxation. I've heard in animal studies they've shown that if you disable the parasympathetic nerve into the heart then it just beats a constant, quite high rate. Marathon runners have considerably lower resting heart rate. It seems to be the parasympathetic nervous system acts as a brake that pumps on an off (connected to inhalation/exhalation) to keep it lower than it's default max speed. So that it's constantly lower means more parasympathetic bias?


Exercise will certainly accomplish similar objectives. After a few months of intense circuit training, I started to realize that I could get away with breathing a lot less frequently. Once my resting heart rate dropped below 50BPM, it was like having a mental switch I could throw on demand to enter into a state of calm. Just a few seconds of focus and I could deal with a monster of a stressful situation with ease. I really need to get back into it. The time investment is substantial, but exercise always pays really good dividends.


One of my pet theories is that regular exercise strengthens your core muscles and allows you to recruit those core muscles more effectively.

This is what allows the diaphragm to expand more and thus facilitates deeper breathing. More oxygen per breath, and fewer heartbeats required to circulate it through the bloodstream.

Could be total rubbish, but I'd be interested to see a study either way.


I have often wondered if controlled breathing was actually a big part of what smokers find relaxing. When I gave up smoking I noticed sucking air through a small paper tube was also relaxing.


That makes a lot of sense! Especially the breathing out part could compound the direct effect of the drug. These long and pleasant breath-outs that you do when you got something done and can finally kick back.


If anyone had a chance to read a book – is it just exploring and describing observation about breathing or it attempts to answer how different breathing actually works and effects the health?

I remember watching this amazing TEDx talk which gives an on state demonstration of how breathing directly affects blood flow / pulse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xc3XdOiGGI

There is another interesting video I've watched years ago with some hints that breathing directly influence mitochondrial activity, but it's in Russian, so not sure if it's worth sharing. Another thing indirectly mentioned was that breathing is the only "low-level" body function that we control conciously to some extent, so its effect on health is a neat byproduct and can be used for "hacking" metabolism and low-level body functions.

Anyway, I'm wondering if there is something more than "conscious breathing can do amazing things to your health" in this book?


I am at the beginning of the book, but for my taste it's too much storified (if that makes sense). He talks a lot about how he found something out and his personal experience with learning about breathing.

Also similar to OP here [1] I was super curious about his claim that you can influence a lot of stuff in your body by picking one nostril you breath with. I googled for confirmation and wasn't satisfied with the results. Later he also recommends oxygen deprivation (breathing very shallowly while running and warns about blackouts)

He doesn't cite studies in a usual science like way. So I decided I won't read the book in full.

Hope this helps.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23980094


"No breathing can heal stage IV cancer"

I like how this sentence is true in two very different ways...


Give a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.


James Nestor’s podcast episodes with Ben Greenfield and Joe Rogan both are very interesting. Obviously there is some material crossover between the two, but I found unique things from each.

I really the breathwork will become the new fad, but for good reason. It’s amazingly powerful.


Anyone interested in the topic should learn about the Buteyko technique and the work of Konstantin Buteyko. He was a Russian scientist who studied the negative effects of chronic hyperventillation, the positive effects of healthy breathing, and developed a technique to restore healthy breathing.

For example, he developed a way to measure the health of someone's respiration through a simple test called the "control pause." To measure your control pause, bring your attention to your breath and without changing your breath, stop breathing at the end of your next natural exhalation. Start a timer, and see how long it takes before your body generates any minor uncomfortable signal in an urge to breathe (an urge to swallow, any kind of muscle contraction, anything subtle expressing a demand to breathe). As soon as you reach such a signal, stop the timer. People who breath healthily (according to Buteyko's research) have at least 40 seconds on the timer. (This is NOT a breath holding test, and if your regular respiration gets faster or deeper after you complete it, you did it wrong.) Most people certainly are not even close to 40 sec. And that, according to Buteyko, is because most people severely overbreathe. The consequence of this dysfunction, of being in a constant state of chronic hyperventillation, is that the blood vessels contract, and surprisingly, less oxygen is transferred to the cells because CO2 is a necessary catalyst for the transfer of oxygen to the cells, and hyperventillation drains the blood of CO2. Healthy breathing, according to Buteyko, is minute and nearly visually imperceptible.


Are there any scientific foundations underlying his techniques?


I'm surprised none of these comments mention "singing" or "prayer". Both are forms of breath control, and both extremely therapeutic.


I'm curious to read the book. I've practiced breathing techniques from yogic and meditative traditions for maybe 15 years now. Even just a minute of deeper, slower breathing has a calming effect on my mind and body, for the most part.

The breathing practices/exercises are, for the most part, useful and interesting. I have to let go of a lot of the metaphysics in these traditions though, there is a certain amount of "woo" to wade through.


I'm a recovering thyroid cancer (good cancer) patient. My breathing and immunity had become bad due to my surgeries/treatment but also stress, occasional hookah smoking, etc. After suffering from severe bronchitis and cough for the first months of this year, I started doing the breathing exercises in this video (https://youtu.be/iUKjuni-6l8?list=PLxdtWIiZAUhoD6mxvZ0gO9ohE...) regularly (4-6 times a week) based on a HNer's recommendation. All my symptoms have completely disappeared, my breathing has become slower and I have become a much calmer person. My lungs feel really clear. Highly recommend doing these breathing exercises regularly (every day for the first month if possible).

This guy, Michael Bijker, also has a lot of good videos on breathing exercises. Here's an example - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBZInO0-ZHk&list=PLxdtWIiZAU...


I've recently started listening to the audio book "Biofeedback and Mindfulness in Everyday Life" [0] by Inna Khazan, a clinical pscyhologist[1]. For the more skeptical minded who want the data/ more exploration, she references a bunch of studies attesting to the efficacy of breathing techniques and how it impacts health etc. I won't say the book has changed my life mainly because I am still listening to it and there's a l ong way to practise these but so far the results are encouraging ( More peace of mind , great sleep (experience) plus data on my Apple Watch app and energy levels)

[0] https://www.audible.in/pd/Biofeedback-and-Mindfulness-in-Eve...

[1] https://innakhazan.com/wp/13-about-me/


Nice to see something like this getting upvotes.

I once had a friend who was out of sync with her inner rythm ... so to speak.

After identifying the problem, we've sat down for an hour and I've taught her how to breathe properly, especially - but not only - slowly.

It changed her life ... with a catch.

People noticed she was calmer and happier. People liked her more. She got promoted. She started earning more. Her life improved significantly, for months.

And then it hit her. Her ego inflated so much, she started overworking herself. She lost her sense for her limits. Her ego couldn't handle the relative increase in energy, which got even worse due to the relative increase in self-confidence.

Burnt herself out. At least one month hospital.

Breathing techniques are no joke. When you're doing it "wrong" all your life, the sudden increase in energy when you begin doing it "right" can be both quite massive and very lasting.


If you don't mind- could you please elaborate on "taught her how to breathe properly"


That's too broad. What do you want to know?

An interesting resource that I found on the topic of breathing is https://www.normalbreathing.com/

Dr Artour Rakhimov claims that breath starvation (breathing slowly and less) is key to higher oxygen absorption; and definitely not deep breathing! "Take a deep breath" makes sense if you have been hyper-ventilating, but not ALL the time.

I found his site via his "How to unblock a blocked nose in 1 minute" video, a technique which works even when both nostrils are clogged:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhOTUBZYTEg


The Science of Breath (1903)[1] by William Walker Atkinson[2] is a fundamental read on the subject.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/dp/1603864180

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Walker_Atkinson


Worth noting that WWA's works are now public domain and can be found for free online, eg. (same book) http://yogebooks.com/english/atkinson/1903sciencebreath.pdf


Does a quick practical guide about how to do this and reap the benefits exist anyway?

I'm also curious about finding references for the studies he mentions.


the following as a 5 min intro video to one of the techniques :

- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FP-dNd1xTcs

if you want to learn more: https://yogananda.org/practice


I read the book it was pretty good. He talks about his experience and a lot of history of breathing techniques and at the end of the books has basically a reference guide and things to look up. Might be worth looking for a digital copy to just cut right to that.


In the article he says he inhales for 5.5 seconds, then exhales for 5.5 seconds.


Have to watch when applying this. I was dehydrated and in the ER. Very stressed. I hate needles and giving blood. Had to do that. Then had a sit up, stand up test. Stated to panic. Counted. Then started to pass out.


Are you saying you got dehydrated and had to go to the ER as a result of this breathing exercise?



If you look up the method he states on YouTube there are videos. I also just described it in another comment.


You have to buy their book to find out.


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