The ancient yogic breathing technique of alternate nostril breathing, aka “nadi shodhana” is a simple yet potent mindful breathing practice with many benefits for the mind and body. In the ancient language of Sanskrit, nadi means “channel” or “flow” and shodhana means “purification”, so nadi shodhana literally means clearing the channels of circulation. From the perspective of the yogic science, this exercise clears out stale energy throughout our body that can manifest as stress, restlessness, and drowsiness by balancing the two hemispheres of your brain. In modern terms, this practice helps reduce the input to the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system while enhancing parasympathetic (rest-and-relax) branches of the nervous system.
Alternate nostril breathing also brings awareness to our often neglected nasal passages. If when you try this exercise you have trouble breathing in or out through your nose, it’s time to clear that up quick! First, try blowing your nose, and if that doesn’t dislodge your congestion, I suggest trying a safe saline nasal spray to clear up environmental irritants and excess mucus. Blocked nasal passages prevent you from breathing through your built-in air filter, which leads to chronic inefficient chest breathing that will cause stress and less restful sleeping patterns. Just as you would periodically clean the air filter of your car or your vacuum cleaner, the same routine maintenance should be applied to your nose.
Top 3 benefits to alternate nostril breathing:
- It reduces stress and blood pressure by activating your parasympathetic (rest-and-relax) nervous system.
- It increases respiratory strength and endurance.
- It improves attention, coordination, and motor control.
How to Practice
Sit in a comfortable position. Take a few deep breaths to let your body settle, releasing any tension you feel on your exhale. Place your right index and middle finger in between your eyebrows. Gently place your thumb on your right nostril and your ring finger on your left nostril.
Softly close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale slowly and deeply without strain through the left nostril. Then, close your left nostril with your ring finger as you release the closure of your right. Exhale through your right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril.
Close your right nostril and release closure of your left. Exhale through your left nostril.
This completes one round, and I suggest you practice this for anywhere between 2-10 minutes.
- Ayurveda: Introduction to the Five Elements and Interconnection
- Meditation Posture: Sharpness
- Tibetan Medicine: An Introduction