The alternate nostril breathing technique or Nadi Shodhana pranayama is a complete pranayama practice in itself. Learn how to do Nadi Shodhana breathing and its benefits in this guide.
As Tim Winton said - “ It’s funny, but you never really think much about breathing. Until it’s all you ever think about.’
We go through our entire lives taking one breath after another subconsciously, powering our body through life day after day. Our breath is the only constant in our life - day in and out - we breathe in and out. Yet, we do not really pay attention to our breath. The practice of pranayama or breathwork brings us closer to the phenomenon of breathing.
Pranayama - which is also popularly known as breathwork - is the art of using breathing techniques to work on our prana. The word 'pranayama' has two etymologies: prana + ayama, and also as prana + Yama. Prana is the life force or vital energy that flows through living beings and inanimate objects. The word Ayama means expanding the dimension - in this case, pranayama consists of a multitude of practices that expand the dimension of our prana.
Alternately - pranayama is also interpreted as control of the breath. The word “Pranayama” is derived from the words “Prana” meaning breath or life force and “Yama” meaning restraint. Both etymological explanations convey the essence of pranayama.
What is Nadi Shodhana Pranayama?
Alternate nostril breathing or Nadi Shodhana pranayama is a significant breathing exercise, which is a complete practice in itself. The word Nadi means 'energy channel' and shodhana means 'to cleanse' or 'to purify'.
In this breathing exercise, one inhales and exhales, alternatively from one nostril while holding the other with the help of fingers. With this yogic breathing exercise, the prana flows through the system of the nadis. Thereby, with the practice of Nadi Shodhana pranayama, we purify our nadis or energy channels and attain greater control of airflow or ‘prana’
Why do alternate nostril breathing?
The importance of the effectiveness of pranayama and its other forms of yogic breathing exercises such as Nadi Shodhana pranayama can have on mental health is highlighted in this quote from these lines from the Hatha Pradipika - “Whatever controls Pawan (prana) controls the mind and whatever controls the mind controls the Prana.”
Breathing is crucial for life. By virtue of breathing, we absorb vitality or prana from nature in the form of Oxygen, which travels to every cell of our bodies to keep it healthy and functional. Alternate Nostril Breathing ensures that the whole body is nourished by an extra supply of oxygen. Nadi shodhana breathing and Anulom Vilom Pranayama have many other benefits that are discussed in the below sections. But first, let us learn how to do this breathing technique.
How To Do Nadi Shodhana Pranayama?
Here’s a guide, below, to perform this simple yogic breathing or Nadi Shodhana pranayama. We are following the technique as taught in Bihar school of yoga:
Our breath is unruly when we breathe subconsciously, thus this step is essential to consciously start breathing steadily to prepare for the Nadi Shodhana pranayama. Now, become aware of your breathing and start to breathe in and breathe out with awareness to pave the way inside you, for the prana to flow in.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama Preparation Step 1: Sit in any comfortable meditation posture such as sukhasana, vajrasana or padmasana. If you have tight hips, place a cushion or a yoga block below your hips.
Step 2: You are sitting absolutely straight with your spine upright and your shoulders relaxed. Relax your body and close your eyes.
Step 3: Place your right middle two fingers on the eyebrows and the last two fingers on the left nostril. You will be using your home and your last two fingers to block and release the nostrils.
Step 4: Now block your right nostril with your thumb and inhale for 5 counts from your left nostril and exhale for 5 times through the same nostril.
Step 5: Breathe normally and be aware of each breath. Now, Inhale and exhale through the right nostril 5 times. This is one round. Practice about 5-7 rounds. Refer to my instructional video to practice these breathing techniques with me.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama/ Alternate nostril breathing technique:
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama Step 1: Sit comfortably and block your right nostril with your thumb, breathing by taking a deep breath in from your left nostril. Feel the prana or the air flowing through the left nostril to the lungs.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama Step 2: After complete inhalation from the left nostril, close your left nostril by ring & little finger. And release the right nostril and exhale. You can feel the relaxation increasing inside you.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama Step 3:. After complete exhalation through the right nostril, inhale deeply from the right nostril, while the left nostril is held shut with the help of your ring finger.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama Step 4. Next, release the left nostril and exhale out the air you inhale from the right nostril completely. Breath normally and do not force your breath.
This is one round and you can practice about 5-7 rounds. Refer to my instructional video to practice these breathing techniques with me.
What Are The Benefits of Nadi Shodhana Breathing?
Now, we will go through the incredible psycho-physiological benefits of Nadi Shodhana pranayama. The slow-paced Nadi Shodhana Pranayama has significant positive effects on the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, nervous system as well your mind. For the mind, this pranayama brings the meditative mindfulness which helps one to push away all the anxieties and to become more relaxed. The preparatory Nadi Shodhana is an excellent technique to prepare our lungs for more advanced pranayama practice.
Alternate nostril breathing, Anulom Vilom, benefits us to calm and center ourselves. It helps to remove the blockages within the nadis and fosters the free flow of prana. Our bodies are nourished with a good supply of oxygen and the carbon dioxide is effectively removed from our bodies. This purifies the whole circulatory system and also cleanses the lungs by removing the stagnant air from the lungs.
Both hemispheres of the brain and the nervous system are stimulated to function optimally. Regular practice of Nadi Shodhana induces clarity, calmness, tranquility, and focus. One of the most relevant benefits of nadi shodhana pranayama in today's age is that it lowers stress levels and anxiety. This alternate nose breathing clears blockages in the energy channels or prana and balances Ida and Pingala nadis, which helps to reach a deep state of meditation and spiritual awakening. Let us go through the top 5 Nadi Shodhana benefits in-depth:
1: Nadi Shodhana Benefits for Stress Relief
Alternate nostril breathwork is effective yogic breathing to keep all the stressors at bay. Relieving stress is, perhaps, the most advantageous benefit of Nadi Shodhana breathwork in today’s world where stress is becoming a new norm. Nadi shodhana breathing activates the parasympathetic dominance on the nervous system which helps to reduce the secretion of stress hormones, subduing anxiety and stress. Therefore, by the dint of Nadi shodhana pranayama, we achieve an incessant, calming flow of prana which stimulates us to stay rooted in midst of all the chaos of life.
A study was carried out on ninety-six medical students to learn the benefits of Anulom Vilom on stress. Young adult students were divided into two groups. The first group was prescribed to perform bhastrika and nadi shodhana pranayama, and the second group practiced Surya Namaskar for six weeks. At the end of the experiment, it turned out that apart from all forms of Yoga, ancient breathwork or Nadi shodhana pranayama and Anulom Vilom had the maximum impact on the reduction of stress, promotion of cardiovascular health.
Another experiment was performed on 107 Masters's students to observe the effect of yogic breathing exercises and meditation techniques on test anxiety. The students were divided into two groups. One performed pranayama for an entire semester. In the end, the result showed a visible effect on the stress level of the experimental group. Thus, ancient breathwork is beneficial for students as well.
2: Nadi Shodhana Benefits For Respiratory System
In our day-to-day activities, we often neglect the way we breathe. We don’t notice that our breaths have become short, shallow while we’re immersed in work. Shallow breathing doesn’t let the wall of the lungs expand and inhale the right amount of air to exterminate harmful particles from the lungs. All of these lead to many types of lung complications such as asthma, chronic pulmonary disease, and other problems.
A study published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine found that Anulom Vilom or Nadi Shodhana benefits the functioning of the lungs. Further, it strengthens the lungs and helps improve respiratory issues, such as asthma or chest infection.
3: Nadi Shodhana Benefits for Blood Pressure and Hypertension
One of the important benefits of yogic breathing, such as Anulom Vilom, nadi shodhana pranayama is to lower blood pressure. Anulom Vilom benefits the regulation of breathing consciously, by taking in deep, long breaths from one nostril at a time alternatively. This breathing exercise or yogic breathing eases hypertension. Also, Nadi Shodhana benefits to improve the cardiovascular system, which results in healthy blood circulation in the body.
An experiment carried out on 26 male medical students to evaluate the Anulom Vilom pranayama benefits. The volunteers have prescribed a 25 minutes session of Nadi shodhana or alternate nose breathing per day, for eight weeks. The experiment showed a visible reduction in systolic blood pressure after.
The alternate nose breathing performed during Anulom Vilom or nadi shodhana pranayama eases hypertension and promotes an enhanced cardiovascular system, which results in healthy blood circulation.
In another study conducted by YRF in 2007 on 30 hypertensive adults in Bhopal in association with the national corporate organization Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. (BHEL), it was found that the practice of Nadi Shodhana pranayama for one month (ratio of 1:1 without kumbhaka) brought down both systolic and diastolic blood pressures. The systolic BP came down by 10 mmHg on an average by the end of two minutes and continued to fall during and after the practice (total 14.5 mmHg). The diastolic BP showed parallel changes with a total fall of 4.2 mmHg. This indicated that the sympathetic overtone in the subjects was reduced through the practice
4: Nadi Shodhana Benefits For Headache
Nadi Shodhana is a great aid for people suffering from rhinosinusitis. It removes the nasal blockages to enhance the airflow which reduces the inflammation of the sinuses.
A recent study was conducted on people from both gender and the age group 16-70 years, which showed the Anulom Vilom benefits on rhinosinusitis.
5: Nadi Shodhana Benefits For Insomnia and Snoring
Improving sleep quality is a significant benefit of breathwork. Manipulation of breathing in this yogic breathing exercise, leads one to a much-relaxed state of mind, because of the unhindered flow of prana inside our bodies. The relaxation of the mind, body helps one to sleep well. Thus, alternate nostril breathing benefits men and women who suffer from sleep disturbance, low quality of sleep. One can perform Nadi Shodhana to acquire a good relaxing sleep. This ancient meditation shut down the hyperactivity of the nervous system which paves the way for better sleep.
Regular practice of Nadi Shodhana pranayama also helps to reduce snoring - the alternative breathing practice clears the nasal passages. This yogic breathing exercise is godsent for those struggling with snoring. With a clear nasal passage, the flow of air unobstructed, breathing isn’t a struggle and one can go to bed peacefully with an elevated flow of peace or prana.
What is the best time to practice Nadi Shodhana Breathing?
You can practice nadi shodhana breathing any time of the day, preferably after your asana practice or exercise routine. I like to practice Nadi Shodhana as soon as I wake up if I do not have time to do yoga exercises. It is suggested that the best time to practice this meditation is from 4 to 6 am; however, it can be practiced at any point of the day. Keep in mind to keep some gap between your meals and this breathwork. Do not practice alternate nostril breathing immediately after meals.
PRECAUTIONS for Nadi shodhana Pranayama
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama should be learned with proper guidance from a yoga teacher. See that you do not exert yourself, and advance your progress on this ancient breathwork step by step. If you have had recent stomach, heart, or brain surgery, you should definitely avoid nadi shodhana pranayama. If you suffer from hypertension, heart conditions, or have high blood pressure, consult your doctor before you commence practicing alternate nose breathing.
Do not force your breath under any circumstance while performing the aforementioned yogic breathing exercises and only breathe through your mouth. If you feel any kind of discomfort during Nadi shodhana pranayama, reduce the counts or duration of inhalation/exhalation and take it easy.
All in all, Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Anulom Vilom Pranayama) is a Pranayama practice recommended for all from beginners to regular yoga practitioners. It has so many perks, the biggest of them all being the mindfulness that goes into it and calms us down and helps us to be relaxed. Apart from this, alternate nostril breathing or Anulom Vilom benefits physiological functions like the cardiovascular system, nervous system, respiratory system, and digestive system. In the end, all of us need a dose of this stress-buster in our lives, be it the slow-paced country life or the hasty city life.
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