Alternate Nostril Breathing - Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

I discovered Alternate Nostril Breathing at a series of local yoga classes where a very thorough instructor spends at least as much time on breathing techniques, or Pranayama, as on the actual yoga poses.  From the first experience, I couldn't believe the amazing effect of this technique - my mind became very calm, clear, and focussed.

Benefits:

  • calms both the mind and the nervous system
  • it is said to balance the left and right brain functions
  • it also balances the use of left and right nostrils - some believe that favouring one nostril over another for an extended period of time throws the body systems out of balance, leading to disease
  • a great technique to use just before meditating to clear the mind
  • use before bedtime to help get to sleep

Alternate Nostril Breathing how to:

Hold your right hand up in front of you, palm towards you.  Curl in your index and middle fingers so that your thumb, ring finger, and pinkie are outstretched.  You'll use the thumb to block your right nostril, and the ring and pinkie fingers together to block the left nostril.

All breathing is to be slow and deep - do not force it.  Breathe only through the nose, not through the mouth.

For the count at each step, start off with a count of 4.  As your lung capacity increases, move up to 6 for each step, then 8, and then eventually more if you are comfortable.

To begin, take a deep breath, in and out, through your nose.

  1. With your thumb, block your right nostril, inhale through the left nostril for your count.
  2. Block both nostrils with thumb and ring/pinkie fingers, hold the breath for your count.
  3. Release thumb and exhale through the right nostril for your count.
  4. Block both nostrils with thumb and ring/pinkie fingers, hold the breath for your count.
  5. Release thumb and inhale through the right nostril for your count.
  6. Block both nostrils with thumb and ring/pinkie fingers, hold the breath for your count.
  7. Release ring/pinkie fingers and exhale through the left nostril for your count.
  8. Block both nostrils with thumb and ring/pinkie fingers, hold the breath for your count.

That is one round.  Go back to step 1 and do at least 3 rounds at any time.

Note:  If you have any sort of medical condition where it is not advisable to hold your breath, skip the steps where both nostrils are blocked, and simply do the inhale/exhale rotation with slow, deep, gentle breaths.

If you have trouble keeping track of how many rounds you've done, I learned a trick that the yogis use to keep count.  You can count with one hand, while you're doing the technique with the other.

Hold out your hand, palm up.  Looking at your four fingers (index, middle, ring, & pinkie), each are divided into 3 sections because of the crease where the knuckles bend.  Using your thumb as the marker, keep count with each inhale or exhale accounting for one section.  When you've gone through all 12 sections of your fingers, you've done 3 rounds of Alternate Nostril Breathing.