Benefits of Alternate Nostril Breathing Pranayama and How to Do It

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in Ayurveda, Immunity, Mood

Unless you’re familiar with yoga, pranayama might be a foreign concept to you. One of the most popular pranayama techniques is alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana pranayama). It’s not difficult to do, and has important health benefits. I discovered this for myself recently, after a yoga teacher friend recommended I undertake it to restore balance to my mind and body. I’ve found that practicing it for just a few minutes twice a day has made a huge difference to how I feel.

What’s Pranayama?

Similar to the concept of “chi” in Chinese medicine, prana means life energy or universal energy in Sanskrit (an ancient Indian language). Pranayama is a yogic breathing practice that controls the breath, regulating this energy and increasing its flow in the body. The effects can be profound, shifting the mood noticeably.

How Alternate Nostril Breathing Works

Have you ever been aware that you’re breathing through one nostril more than the other? It commonly happens as part of the nasal cycle. However, it can contribute to the body becoming unbalanced. This is because each nostril connects to one side (the opposite side) of the brain hemisphere. When more airflow is passing through the left nostril, it means that the right side of the brain is more active and vice versa.

Scientists have found that the left and right hemispheres of the brain have different functions. The right side of the brain is creative and emotional (feminine), while the left is logical and intellectual (masculine).

What’s more, according to yoga, there are three energy pathways or channels in the body (nadis) — ida (which ends at the left side of the nose and activates the feminine right side of the brain), pingala (which ends at the right side of the nose and activates the masculine left side of the brain), and shushumna (which runs along the spine).

According to the yogis, when the breath continues to flow predominantly through one nostril for more than a couple of hours at a time, it will have an adverse effect on our health.

  • If the left nostril and ida nadi is blocked (breathing through the right nostril is dominant) it will result in too much masculine energy, producing mental and nervous disturbance.
  • If the right nostril and pingala nadi is blocked (breathing through the left nostril is dominant) it will result in too much feminine energy, producing depression, fatigue and reduced clarity of thinking. ‘

The longer the flow of breath in one nostril, the more serious the illness will be.

Hence, doing alternative nostril breathing will balance both male and female energy, and produce optimum functioning in both sides of the brain.

How to Do It

Sit with your right hand in Mrgi mudra. This is where the tips of your right index and middle fingers are placed onto the ball of your right thumb, while keeping your remaining two fingers pointing straight (it looks a bit like a deer’s head).

Using your right hand in Mrgi mudra:

  1. Close off your right nostril with your thumb just under the bridge.
  2. Inhale through the left nostril for a count of five, or what ever feels comfortable.
  3. Take your thumb off your right nostril and close off your left nostril with your second last finger.
  4. With the left nostril closed, exhale through the right nostril.
  5. Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale through the right nostril.
  6. Close off the right nostril with your thumb again and exhale through the left nostril.
  7. Keeping the right nostril closed, inhale through the left nostril.
  8. Swap to the right nostril and exhale. Continue for around 10-12 cycles. Do it a few times a day.

Note: The inhalations and exhalations should all be carried out for the same length of time. Don’t vary the durations.

Scientifically Proven Health Benefits

There have been a number of scientific studies on impact of alternate nostril breathing, with many finding a positive effect on cardiorespiratory functions including lowering blood pressure. See this study and this study for example.

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