The Wonders of Alternate Nostril Breathing

We know that there are a number of breathing exercises that are meant to soothe the many ailments we all face. Taking three deep breaths is scientifically proven to lower your heart rate, while a “Lion’s Breath” is meant aid in confidence building and cultivating Prana. Alternate nostril breathing, or Nadi Shodhana, is touted by experts and amateurs alike for its immense stress-relieving effects.

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I discovered the comfort of Nadi Shodhana a few years ago, during a class held at my college’s fitness center. Though it took me a couple tries to acclimate to the seemingly contorted hand position, I’ve adopted it into my ramshackle stress management arsenal. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or tense, I take a few minutes to give my nostrils some love. It leaves me feeling grateful, grounded, and ready to continue my day with more intention.

How is Alternate Nostril Breathing practiced?

- Nadi Shodhana is practiced by sitting cross legged or otherwise comfortably and with good posture.

- Your right hand is arranged with the index and middle fingers folded downwards, with the thumb, ring and little fingers remaining upright.

- After you take one full breath in and out through both nostrils, take your outstretched thumb to close your right nostril. Inhale through the left nostril, gently remove the thumb from the right nostril and close your left nostril with the extended ring finger.

- Then, in a controlled manner, exhale and inhale through your right nostril. Remove your ring finger from your left nostril and close the right nostril with your thumb. Exhale through your left nostril, and you’ve completed one round of the exercise.

- Next, you’ll inhale through the left nostril, and continue with the pattern until you are satisfied.

- When you decide to finish, bring your hands to your lap and take a few good, deep breaths in and out through both nostrils simultaneously. 

Cool, but why does this work so well?

As you breathe throughout the day, you are utilizing one dominant nostril at any given time, which alternates every couple hours or so. The pattern of dominant nostril changes (controlled by the central nervous system) can tell you a lot about your current state. If your right nostril is dominant at the moment, it generally means you are in more active state with your blood pressure, body temperature, endorphins, and heart rate all at an increased rate as well. Alternatively, a favored left nostril means essentially the opposite; your activity levels, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. are all diminished. 

Ancient yogis recognized the different qualities of the two sides, naming them the lunar and solar channels, respectively. The lunar channel on your left side - or Ida - is cooling and less stimulating, while the solar channel on your right - Pingala - has heating qualities. Nadi Shodhana, while bringing laser focus to both nostrils separately, helps to balance the essences of both channels, combining them into one. Alternately, if you find yourself in a chilly room, inhaling and exhaling through your right nostril may help to warm you back to a balanced state. After a long run on an 85 degree day, restricting breathing to your left nostril may help to cool you. 

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Regardless of how seasoned you are as a yoga practitioner, alternate nostril breathing can genuinely affect your stress levels, as well has your nervous system’s balance. The next time a sweltering flash of anxiety crosses your path, you can gently combat it armed with knowledge of your body’s daily rhythms and its surprising connection to your nostrils

-JFC