Ever heard of, or tried, “alternate nostril breathing” or nadi shodhana (in sanskrit)?
Nope? Well, you’re not alone!
This simple, yet powerful, way of breathing is one that taps into all sorts of intuitive, body-based helper systems within us.
That was my verbose way of saying, this breath work does the (good) work for you! Here’s how.
See, our noses are directly linked to our brains and our nervous systems. Yup, ’tis true! And we breathe predominantly through one nostril or the other at any given time. This automatic pattern even helps us sleep better, as we often roll over, for instance, when one nostril begins to get more restricted and the other opens up, so we can keep breathing smoothly. Generally, the dominant nostril alternates rhythmically every 90 minutes to 2 hours or so.
Right now, take a few breaths in and out of your nose and see what you notice.
Is one nostril more open than the other?
Do your best to just notice without immediately jumping to a conclusion of it somehow being good or bad.
Alright, so here’s one approach – you may use the technique of inhaling and exhaling exclusively through either the left or right nostril in order to benefit from the quality associated with that side of the body and brain. Consciously using different breath ratios can yield varied effects. For instance, if you breathe exclusively through the left nostril, it may help you feel calmer, kind of expelling unwanted negative emotions or stress with the body’s natural systems to help balance out. This is excellent by itself before bed.
Or you can inhale and exhale exclusively through the right nostril to more directly give yourself energy, positive mood, and focus. This is great for the beginning of your day, or at a point in the afternoon when you feel a little fatigue start to get ya.
A second approach – breathing through both nostrils side to side, helps you garner both sets of benefits. Consciously moving the breath from side to side through each nostril will help you access your whole brain and kind of clear the proverbial “cobwebs.” It will also help you tap into the strengths and energies associated with both sides of the body and brain.
Also, by emphasizing inhaling, the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system boosts the heart rate and blood pressure, maybe even energizing us, bringing to a state of alert calmness.
By emphasizing exhaling, the parasympathetic nervous system slows the heartbeat and relaxes the circulation, nerves, and digestive system. It relaxes us and promotes elimination, both physically and emotionally.
THIS particular practice – Alternate Nostril Breathing – integrates the two beautifully.
How to do it:
- Take a comfortable seat. Allow the spine to stretch tall without becoming overly rigid or tense.
- Do your best to keep the breath relaxed, deep and full.
- For a few rounds of breath, consider counting to four on your inhale, and four on your exhale, just to establish a pace that feels calm and even.
- Place your left hand on your lap.
◦ If you’d like, you can have the pointer finger and thumb touch, and the palm up. This is a hand position that subtly encourages focus. It’s called gyan mudra.
◦ The left hand can rest on your thigh throughout the practice.
- Bring the right hand up toward the face. Take your two peace fingers and gently place them on the brow bone at the center of the forehead. The pointer and middle finger can rest here throughout the breath practice. Or, if you’re familiar with vishnu mudra, you can utilize that to open and close the nostrils.
- You will use the thumb of the right hand to close the right nostril, and the ring finger of the right hand to close the left nostril.
- To begin, take an inhale through your nose, and exhale sigh through your mouth.
- Reseal your lips, then close the right nostril and gently and fully inhale through the left nostril.
- Then close the left nostril, release the right thumb, and exhale through the right nostril.
- Then inhale through the right nostril. (Left nostril is still closed off).
- Close the right nostril, release the left, and exhale through the left nostril.
- Continue repeating, alternating nostrils after each inhalation.
- This is one round. Start slowly with 1 or 2 rounds and gradually increase. Never force. Sit quietly for a few moments after you have finished.
- There are many, many different techniques of pranayama such as inhaling through the left for a 6 count, holding for 4 with both nostrils closed, and exhaling through the right for 6, then inhaling through the right for 6, holding for 4, then exhaling through the left for 6.
- Caution: Do not hold your breath if you have high blood pressure. Please consult a medical professional before doing so. Also, if your nostrils are blocked for any reason, please do not force yourself to do this practice.
- It’s fun! :)
- Creates whole brain functioning by balancing the right and left hemispheres. It integrates both sides of the brain, effectively restoring subtle imbalances.
- Merges the thinking brain and the feeling brain.
- Help you think more clearly.
- Can help with headaches, migraines, and other stress-related symptoms.
- Improves sleep.
- Cleanses your lungs.
- Regulates the cooling and warming systems of the body.
- Enhances rest and relaxation.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes!
PS If you’re interested in practicing breathwork with me in person, check out details on my next retreat June 18-24, 2016 in Costa Rica.
Sarah Plummer Taylor, MSW* is a dynamic, bold and humorous motivational speaker, holistic health counselor, and yoga teacher who travels North America and the UK teaching resilience-building and integrative health and wellness. She is the co-owner of a wellness LLC that provides unique, somatic-based stress management workshops both domestically and internationally and is the author of Just Roll With It: 7 Battle Tested Truths for Building a Resilient Life. From Capitol Hill to mainstream media to corporate, academic, and military communities, Sarah’s unique message of resilience has been changing lives since 2012. Sarah can be reached via her website: www.SemperSarah.com or via @SemperSarah on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Want more information on her retreat in Costa Rica in June? Visit her website here.