If you’ve ever taken a yoga or meditation class, the instructor may have had you engage in pranayama, or breathing exercises.
And you may have wondered, why are we doing this?
There is great benefit to learning how to control your breath. Having the ability to slow down or speed up your breath in specific situations is a valuable tool.
One of the most effective pranayama is called nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. It’s an easy yet powerful breath technique that can help you settle your mind, body, and emotions.
What Exactly Is Nadi Shodhana?
Nadi shodhana translates from the Sanskrit meaning, “clearing the channels of circulation.”
In the yogic tradition, there are multiple channels that run through the body and transmit energy. These channels are known as nadis, and the energy that courses through them is known as prana.
Two of the largest nadis in the body are known as the ida and the pingala. They criss cross over the largest nadi known as the shushunja – which runs down the center of the body. Where they cross one another corresponds with the chakras (or wheels of energy) that exist below the head.
The ida and the pingala end at the nostrils. So the theory is, by sending breath in and out exclusively through one nostril, then the other, you are bringing balance by essentially clearing those pathways of any stagnant energy that could negatively impact the chakras.
It sounds more complicated than it is. It’s actually quite simple.
How to Do Alternate Nostril Breathing
If all of the above Sanskrit and terminology is confusing, don’t worry about it. Suffice it to say that performing nadi shodhana is a great way to hit the reset button when your life becomes too crazy.
To perform alternate nostril breathing, simply follow these steps:
- Find a comfortable seat and sit tall. Spine should be straight and heart open.
- Relax your left hand into your lap and lift your right hand in front of your face.
- Using your right hand, allow your pointer finger and middle finger to rest gently on the space between your eyebrows. They will serve as an anchor.
- Close your eyes and breath deeply in and out through your nose.
- When you’re ready, use your thumb to close off your right nostril and take a deep inhale through your left nostril. Keep it slow and steady.
- At the top of the inhale, close the left nostril with your ring finger or pinkie finger and retain your breath for a brief pause with both nostrils closed.
- Release your thumb from your right nostril and exhale out slowly through the right side. Pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale.
- Without changing anything, inhale through the right side slowly.
- At the top of the inhale, hold both nostrils closed again and retain the breath.
- Open your left nostril and release breath slowly through the left side, pausing briefly again at the bottom.
- Repeat this pattern for 5-10 cycles and keep your mind’s focus on following the inhales and exhales.
Each cycle should take roughly 30-40 seconds. You’re working to match the length of your inhales, pauses, and exhales. But know that it’s completely normal to experience one side as more congested than the other. So be patient.
Benefits of Alternate Nostril Breathing
So why do nadi shodhana?
Well, as with all pranayama, it gives you the chance to practice mastery of your breath so you can use it as a tool when life becomes challenging. But there are also physiological changes that occur with this breathing exercise as well.
Alternate nostril breathing can do the following:
1. Enable Better Mental Function
We all have times when the mind feels a bit dull.
Since performing nadi shodhana provides equal amounts of oxygen to the brain, it can help sharpen concentration and mental clarity. So it’s especially helpful to do before any important event that requires serious focus.
2. Soothe the Nervous System
When you have one-pointed focus on the breath, particularly when making the effort to slow and deepen it, this sends a message to the nervous system to enter into a relaxation response.
In fact, when you’re breathing through just the left nostril during nadi shodhana, you’re directing oxygen flow into the right hemisphere of your brain and turns on the parasympathetic nervous system. It is the parasympathetic nervous system that enables relaxation.
3. Regulate Body Temperature
The tradition of yoga teaches that the left nostril is considered feminine (calm, cooling, and nurturing), while the right nostril is associated with the masculine (forceful, heating, and competitive).
Thus, if you’re feeling too warm or too cold, doing alternate nostril breathing can restore balance and bring comfort.
4. Creates Calmness
We all have to deal with the inner dialogue that rattles around in our brains. But the focus required to perform alternate nostril breathing can help to quiet some of that noise.
When we slow our breath, the body and mind respond by slowing as well. So if you’re in an overly reactive emotional state, instituting this pranayama can go the distance to soften the intensity of that state.
And the more you practice it, the more it becomes second habit. Eventually, that reactive state becomes a more informed and responsive state without your even having to think about it.
The Wonder of Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is a vehicle for deepening concentration and revealing the quiet that exists within.
It works to merge mind and body – bringing them into balance and uniting them with breath.
And it’s so simple. To find out more about how we can help you or your organization arrive at a more peaceful state through breath work, meditation, and other mindfulness practices, contact us today.