How to breathe deeply when you have a stuffy nose

If there’s one thing we can all relate to, it’s that having a stuffy nose sucks. 

It’s only when we’re in the midst of a gnarly winter cold and our nasal passages are well and truly blocked that we realise how much we take for granted the ability to breathe through our nose. 

And for good reason: being able to breathe deeply is extremely important – and it’s nasal breathing that facilitates this. 

‘We tend not to think too much about the process of breathing, even though it’s what keeps us alive, says Dr Deborah Lee, a doctor at the NHS-regulated Dr Fox Online Pharmacy. 

‘When we breathe in deeply and slowly, this slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and helps relieve stress.

‘So concentrating on taking slow deep breaths is an excellent way to lower feelings of stress and anxiety.’

As Lee explains, nasal breathing has been shown to improve the oxygen uptake of the blood by as much as 20%. 

‘When we breathe through the nose, this draws up the diaphragm, the muscular layer that separates the chest from the abdomen,’ she tells 

‘This action activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) – the involuntary nervous system that induces feelings of calmness and aids rest and relaxation.’

On the contrary, she says, repeated mouth breathing results in a dry mouth, dry lips, and fatigue, and is linked with a rapid heart rate and raised blood pressure.

Negative side effects of mouth breathing

  • Inability to fully close the mouth
  •  Dry lips and mouth
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • A high, arched palate,
  •  Inflamed gums

This is why having a cold is so awful – and when you’re someone who has allergies that cause your nose to be blocked the majority of the time, attempting to take a full, deep breath can be disappointing at best.

Luckily, there are some breathing techniques that can be used to help you breathe deeply when your nose is blocked.

Deep breathing techniques for when you have a blocked nose

Vanessa Michielon, a yoga teacher specialised in mental health and founder of the transformative movement method has shared two great breathing techniques for those suffering from a stuffy, blocked nose.

Alternated Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

‘Seated in a comfortable position, close your right nostril with the thumb of your right hand and breathe through your left nostril,’ says Michielon.

‘Gently close the left nostril with your little finger and ring finger of the right hand and exhale only through the right nostril, releasing the right thumb. 

‘Now inhale from the right nostril only, then close it gently and release your little finger and ring finger to exhale only through the left nostril. 

‘Repeat for 10 rounds trying to slow down each cycle and not only fill your upper chest but also the bottom of your lungs (this is key in breathing deeply). 

‘This will help unlock the blocked nostril and create a more even flow of air through both nostrils.’

Golden Thread Breathing Variation

‘If breathing through the nose is absolutely impossible, to still breathe deeply you can practice a variation of Golden Thread breathing,’ explains Michielon.

‘This technique involves breathing slowly through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, maintaining the lips slightly apart, visualising a golden thread exiting your mouth – because the lips are almost sealed, the exhalation becomes naturally slower and the breath pattern fuller. 

‘When the nose is completely blocked, you can breathe in slowly through your mouth, as if you are sipping through a straw, and again out of your mouth.

Remember to breathe as slowly and lightly as possible, allowing your belly and chest to expand in all directions on the inhalation and soften naturally on the exhalation.’

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