Breast Health Challenge Tip #16

Take a relaxation break every 2½ hours throughout the day for 3-20 minutes to help alleviate stress.


Did you know that much of the time only one of your nostrils is dominant, and this affects brain function and mood? Did you know that having an irregular nasal cycle has been linked to high levels of trait anxiety and stress-related symptoms? In our crowded, noisy modern society, our lives are run by deadlines, the clock, modern technology, mobile phones, and a hundred and one other demands and pressures. This tips our innate ultradian rhythms out of balance, impairing our health.

Stress Has Become the Norm

Belgium has one of the highest breast cancer rates in the world, with rates 5 times higher than India or China. While teaching a breast health workshop there in 2016, I asked the women in attendance what they thought the reasons were for this. Simultaneously, many of them immediately said, “Stress!” When I questioned them further they said that there were too many demands on them. A working mother and wife is expected to go to work all day, then come home and cook dinner and care for the family and still find time to clean house, and do laundry. They have little time for themselves, do not have the support of an extended community and feel isolated.

Many women find themselves diagnosed with breast cancer after a long period of stress. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system and can cause prolonged elevation in the adrenal stress hormone known as cortisol, as well as the hormone insulin. Stress impairs the function of the immune system, and activates molecules called cytokines that can increase inflammation. These physiological changes make us more vulnerable to cancer.

The Normal Ultradian Rhythm

The ultradian rhythm is a rhythmic alternation of nostril and cerebral dominance which occurs every 24 hours. Approximately every 60-90 minutes one nostril is dominant, followed by a 20-minute period when both are open, and then a reversal of dominance. The whole cycle is approximately 2½ hours, and this rhythm helps to synchronize many other body rhythms, such as appetite, sleep, dreaming, hormonal secretion, moods etc.

The twenty-minute period when both nostrils are dominant is a time of integration between the two brain hemispheres.  This is often the time when we want to daydream, fantasize, reflect, have a break from what we were doing, move around, or process emotional material. It is the time of reconciliation between mind and body, when we are more open to receive and pay attention to the messages from the body. It is the time when we are primed to receive intuitive impulses, inner guidance, and connect to our spiritual selves.

The Twenty-Minute Break

Western society chronically neglects the body’s need for a twenty-minute break every two hours or so. We replace these times of potential integration with addictions such as coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, work, television, sugar or excess food, and recreational drugs, which compound the problem. These addictions further alienate us from the messages our bodies send us, from our emotional truths, and from our spiritual identities. Evidence suggests that ignoring the psychological and physiological need to relax fosters hormonal imbalances and increased cell replication leading to cancer.

The Need for Regular Relaxation

When we are chronically stressed, the breath cycle becomes derailed. Most often it speeds up, so that the nostril shift will occur within a shorter period. We may also become dominant in one nostril, rarely breathing through the other. This can lead to over dominance in one hemisphere of the brain, problems occurring particularly on one side of the body and dominance of either the parasympathetic or sympathetic nervous system. We lose our pre-programmed equilibrium. It is no wonder that breast cancer often occurs after a period of chronic stress.

Many of us live very busy lives with little time for genuine relaxation, self-reflection, meditation, prayer, or solitude. Relaxation is a necessary component of any healing process. When we relax, we activate the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, which promotes healing. Stress is a component of almost all illness, and relaxation and meditation help to decrease the physiological effects of stress.

One of the best ways to maintain the body’s equilibrium despite stress is through breathing exercises, or pranayams, as they are termed in yoga. Many of the body’s timed cyclical processes revolve around the breath cycle. We often forget that every process in the body has its own rhythm. Our bodies are subjects of time, bound to the solar, lunar and planetary cycles. Our minds more easily approach the timeless. Breathing exercises can synchronize our bodily processes with the great universal rhythms and lead our minds into a state of timelessness.

Discover Your Ultradian Rhythms

As you sit wherever you are, take your right thumb and place it against your right nostril, closing the nostril. Take a breath in and out of the left nostril only and notice how easily the air goes in and out. Does it feel freely open or a little clogged? Now take the left thumb and block the left nostril, breathing in and out through the right nostril only and noticing how open it feels. Which one seems more open? This is your dominant nostril at this time. If both nostrils seem equally open, your body may be orchestrating its 20-minute break.

Choose one day this week when you will be able to check your nostril dominance quickly like this, every half-hour. Record nostril dominance in a chart, using L for left, R for right and B for both, and record what activity you were engaged in during that time. Observe the pattern. Share what you found with us.

Schedule several short breaks for yourself each day, and make a list of activities you can use to relax. These may include: 1) practice left nostril breathing for 3-11 minutes; 2) go for a short walk; 3) have a nap; 4) sit with a cup of tea; 5) write a poem; 6) get or give yourself a foot massage; 7) listen to music or mantra; 8) spend time in nature; 9) sit with your pet; 10) watch fish in a fish tank; 11) pray; 12) spend time in a sauna.  What works for you?


Yeo W, Lee HM, Chan A, Chan EY et al. Risk factors and natural history of breast cancer in younger Chinese women. World J Clin Incol. 2014 Dec 10;5(5):1097-1106

Lengacher CA, Kip KE, Post-White J et al. Lymphocyte recovery after breast cancer treatment and mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy. Biol res Nurs 2013 Jan;15(1):37-47.

Ernest Lawrence Rossi, David Lloyd (1992). Ultradian Rhythms in Life Processes: Inquiry into Fundamental Principles of Chronobiology and Psychobiology. Springer-Verlag Berlin and Heidelberg GmbH & Co. K.

Take the Breast Health Challenge!

Give yourself a relaxation break and take a photo or make a video of you doing it, and post on your Facebook page, Youtube or Instagram with the hashtag #breasthealthchallenge between Oct 1-31. Challenge your friends to do the same.

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