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Yoga Alternate Nostril Breathing Exercise, Nadi Sodhana

Updated on March 28, 2020
Nadi Sodhana or alternate nostril breath is an ancient breathing technique.
Nadi Sodhana or alternate nostril breath is an ancient breathing technique. | Source

Alternate nostril breathing or nadi shodhana is an ancient pranayama breathing technique also known as anuloma viloma. It has a profound stilling effect on the mind and restores the proper balance to our breathing pattern, which equalizes the energies and pathways of the nervous system.

It would be surprising for some of us to learn that we do not breathe evenly through both nostrils. In a two-to-three-hour cycle, the right and left nostrils become alternately dominant. The left nostril is connected with functions of the left hemisphere of the brain, while the right nostril is connected with the right hemisphere. Prolonged breathing through one side can drain our energy.

Nostril Test: Find out which nostril is dominant right now. Close off one nostril and breathe through the other. Is the breath flowing easily through the open nostril? Reverse, and compare the airflow of the other nostril. Whichever nostril does not feel blocked is the dominant nostril at this time.

What is Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breath

The Sanskrit words nadi shodhana mean:

nadi = subtle channels
shodhana = cleansing or purifying

A human being is composed not only of the physical body but also a subtle body. The 'prana' or life force flows through the subtle body through these channels. Practicing pranayama regularly vitalizes these channels promoting not only good health but also spiritual growth and understanding.

Traditional Indian medicine or Ayurveda mentions 72,000 different Nadis of which the three main nadis called ida, pingala and sushumna that pass up the spinal column in the human body. It is important to remember that if the nadis are impure the practice of pranayama is a waste of energy since it requires more prana to flow through an impure nadi.

Hence it is a good idea to start pranayama practice with the alternate nostril breath. It is suitable for beginners and advanced students.

Did you know that you did not breathe through both nostrils evenly all the time?

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Nadi Shodhana - alternate nostril breathing

Benefits of Alternate Nostril Breath

There are many benefits to practicing nadi shodhana or alternate nostril breathing technique. They are:

  • calms the mind
  • soothes anxiety and stress
  • lowers the heart rate
  • restores proper balance to our breathing pattern
  • balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain
  • stokes the gastric fire, which improves digestion and speeds elimination of wastes from the body.
  • purifies both the gross and subtle energy systems of the body.

Caution: It is important to stop if you notice any dizziness or headaches while practicing pranayama breathing techniques.

How to do Alternate Nostril Breath

This pranayama can be done in a supine position or by sitting up:

  • Clear your nostrils before practice.
  • Sit comfortably or in a supine position. If you are sitting comfortably in a chair or cross-legged on the floor on a mat, make sure your spine is straight.
  • Curl your index and middle finger toward the palm.
  • Thumb rests on the right nostril, and your ring finger on your left nostril.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Inhale and exhale. Close the right nostril with the thumb; inhale through the left nostril for 5 counts.
  • Close both nostrils; hold your breath for 5 counts. (If holding the breath is difficult then reduce the count or skip this step)
  • Lift the thumb; exhale for 5 counts through the right nostril.
  • Inhale through the right nostril for 5 counts, hold for 5 counts, close your right nostril and exhale through the left nostril for 5 counts. This makes 1 round.
  • Do up to 5 rounds.

According to yoga, the breath is only the material aspect of the energy that is far more subtle and universal. Practicing pranayama is an important aspect of the practice of yoga asanas or poses. Many of the other breathing techniques require a person to have gained some proficiency in yoga asana practice before embarking on pranayama.

The best option is to find a qualified yoga teacher to practice pranayama and yoga poses.


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