Reduce stress and find balance through this simple, and ancient breathing technique.
Yoga includes pranayama, the practice of working with the breath in a variety of techniques. Some of these breathing exercises are heating, some cooling, some wake us up, some quiet us down and others encourage a state of balance.
One of these techniques is alternate nostril breathing, which is a practice that can be done almost any time, by almost anybody, to encourage balance in body, mind and spirit.
You may not realize it, but naturally every one-and-a-half to two hours the movement of our breath switches from one nostril to the other. According to yogic philosophy, this has important implications in terms of our state of mind and our physical well-being.
We have a network of channels that flow throughout our body; in Chinese medicine these are the meridians and in yoga and ayurveda these are called nadis. Different nadis are stimulated when different nostrils are in use.
For example, breath flowing through the right nostril is more stimulating while breath moving through the left nostril is more quieting or sedating. To alternate between the two encourages equanimity, clarity of thought, a feeling of being centered and even an experience of mental and subtle body purification. The Sanskrit name for this breath, nadi shodhana, speaks to this, because it translates to mean cleansing the nadis, which allows us to then experience greater balance.
Alternate nostril breathing is suitable for beginners, for people who are old or young, well or working with healing a health challenge. One of its greatest benefits is that alternate nostril breathing encourages the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby reducing our body’s experience of stress—something we all need.
Try it at home:
- Find a comfortable seated position with your spine long and straight
- Use your thumb of your right hand to gently seal your right nostril. Begin by exhaling through your left nostril as long as it is comfortable.
- Then inhale through your left nostril as long as it is comfortable.
- Switch the position of your hand by gently sealing your left nostril with the ring finger of your right hand, releasing your thumb from the right nostril. Exhale through your right nostril for as long as it is comfortable and then inhale through your right nostril—again, for as long as it is comfortable.
You’ve just completed one round of alternate nostril breathing. Depending on your capacity, repeat this cycle several more times, or up to 10+ rounds (you can even practice for several minutes). This practice can help center the mind before a busy day, or relax the mind at the end of a crazy one.
By Felicia Tomasko