noses get erections --2/28/24

Today's selection -- from Breathe by James Nestor. The interior of the nose is blanketed with erectile tissue:

“The nose is crucial because it clears air, heats it, and moistens it for easier absorption. Most of us know this. But what so many people never consider is the nose's unexpected role in problems like erectile dysfunction. Or how it can trigger a cavalcade of hormones and chemicals that lower blood pressure and ease digestion. How it responds to the stages of a woman's menstrual cycle. How it regulates our heart rate, opens the vessels in our toes, and stores memories. How the density of your nasal hairs helps determine whether you'll suffer from asthma. 

“Few of us ever consider how the nostrils of every living person pulse to their own rhythm, opening and closing like a flower in response to our moods, mental states, and perhaps even the sun and the moon. 

“Thirteen hundred years ago, an ancient Tantric text, the Shiva Swarodaya, described how one nostril will open to let breath in as the other will softly close throughout the day. Some days, the right nostril yawns awake to greet the sun; other days, the left awakens to the fullness of the moon. According to the text, these rhythms are the same throughout every month and they're shared by all humanity. It's a method our bodies use to stay balanced and grounded to the rhythms of the cosmos, and each other. 

“In 2004, an Indian surgeon named Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani attempted to scientifically test the Shiva Swarodaya patterns on an international group of subjects. Over the course of a month, he found that when the influence of the sun and moon on the Earth was at its strongest—during a full or new moon—the students consistently shared the Shiva Swarodaya pattern. 

“Bhavanani admitted the data were anecdotal and much more research would be needed to prove that all humans shared in this pattern. Still, scientists have known for more than a century that the nostrils do pulse to their own beat, that they do open and close like flowers throughout the day and night. 

Bones of the nose and septal cartilage

“The phenomenon, called nasal cycles, was first described in 1895 by a German physician named Richard Kayser. He noticed that the tissue lining one nostril of his patients seemed to quickly congest and close while the other would mysteriously open. Then, after about 30 minutes to 4 hours, the nostrils switched, or ‘cycled.’ The shifting appeared to be influenced less by the moon's mysterious pull and more by sexual urges. 

“The interior of the nose, it turned out, is blanketed with erectile tissue, the same flesh that covers the penis, clitoris, and nipples. Noses get erections. Within seconds, they too can engorge with blood and become large and stiff. This happens because the nose is more intimately connected to the genitals than any other organ; when one gets aroused, the other responds. The mere thought of sex for some people causes such severe bouts of nasal erections that they'll have trouble breathing and will start to sneeze uncontrollably, an inconvenient condition called ‘honeymoon rhinitis.’ As sexual stimulation weakens and erectile tissue becomes flaccid, the nose will, too. 

“After Kayser's discovery, decades passed and nobody offered a good reason for why the human nose was lined with erectile tissue, or why the nostrils cycled. There were many theories: some believed this switching provoked the body to flip over from side to side while sleeping to prevent bedsores. (Breathing is easier through the nostril opposite the pillow.) Others thought the cycling helped protect the nose from respiratory infection and allergies, while still others argued that alternate airflow allows us to smell odors more efficiently. 

“What researchers eventually managed to confirm was that nasal erectile tissue mirrored states of health. It would become inflamed during sickness or other states of imbalance. If the nose became infected, the nasal cycle became more pronounced and switched back and forth quickly. The right and left nasal cavities also worked like an HVAC system, controlling temperature and blood pressure and feeding the brain chemicals to alter our moods, emotions, and sleep states. 

“The right nostril is a gas pedal. When you're inhaling primarily through this channel, circulation speeds up, your body gets hotter, and cortisol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate all increase. This happens because breathing through the right side of the nose activates the sympathetic nervous system, the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism that puts the body in a more elevated state of alertness and readiness. Breathing through the right nostril will also feed more blood to the opposite hemisphere of the brain, specifically to the prefrontal cortex, which has been associated with logical decisions, language, and computing. 

“Inhaling through the left nostril has the opposite effect: it works as a kind of brake system to the right nostril's accelerator. The left nostril is more deeply connected to the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest-and-relax side that lowers blood pressure, cools the body, and reduces anxiety. Left-nostril breathing shifts blood flow to the opposite side of the prefrontal cortex, to the area that influences creative thought and plays a role in the formation of mental abstractions and the production of negative emotions."



James Nestor


Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art


Riverhead Books


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