Just as the activities of the mind influence the breath, so does the breath influence our state of mind. ~T. K. V. Desikachar
When I began taking group yoga classes in 2001, the physical aspects were intoxicating. I reveled in the rush of flowing from one pose into the next. Gradually, and thankfully, I came to realize that yoga was much more than fancy moves that lead to a toned physique. There were eight limbs of yoga, in fact!
The introduction of pranayama, or yogic breathing, drew me further away from my ego, and closer to my soul. Nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, is a simple technique that took my yoga practice beyond asana. Nadi means “channel,” and shodhana means “cleansing” or “purifying.”
The Benefits of Nadi Shodhana
Some of the benefits of pranayama include:
- Balance to both the right and left hemispheres of the brain
- Reduction of anxiety and stress
- Lowered heart rate to relieve tension
- Revitalization of a tired mind and body
- Purification of the body’s channels, so that prana, or life force energy, can travel more easily
- Regulation of the cooling and warming cycles of the body
- Preparation for deeper meditation
Alternate Nostril Breathing, Step-By-Step
Alternate nostril breathing can be useful for both the beginning and seasoned yoga practitioner. Below is a basic intro to alternate nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana.
- Find a comfortable seat. Come into Sukhasana (Easy Pose), or sit on a blanket or pillow. Feel your sit-bones ground you as you lift ever so slightly from the crown of the head, creating a long spine. Rest your left palm on your left knee, moving your right hand towards the nose.
- Using the right thumb, softly close the right nostril, and inhale as slowly as you can through the left nostril, then close it with your ring finger. Pause. Open and exhale slowly through the right nostril.
- With the right nostril open, inhale slowly, then close it with the thumb. Pause. Exhale through the left nostril. Once your exhalation is complete, inhale through the left. Pause before moving to the right.
- Repeat this pattern five to ten times, and then release the right hand to the right knee. Ease back into normal breathing.
Notes and Recommendations
Advanced pranayama, such as longer breath retention, should be practiced with a skilled teacher. If your nasal passages are blocked in any way, wait until they are clear before initiating nadi shodhana. Do not begin a breathing practice if you suffer from shortness of breath or high blood pressure.
You can start alternate nostril breathing in the morning before launching into your day, or later, when you need an afternoon pick-me-up. It can be included as an opening or closing to your yoga practice. This accessible introduction to pranayama can add balance and nourishment to your life.