Pranayama (or breathing practice) is one of the 8 limbs of yoga. It is commonly used at the beginning or end of an asana (physical) practice, but it is a “practice” all of its own. Many yogis have a regular or daily pranayama practice in addition to an asana practice. One of my favorite pranayama practices is Nadi Shodhana, or more commonly referred to in my classes I teach at Lotus Yoga as “alternate nostril breathing". I like to begin my evening classes particularly with this or another pranayama practice to help calm the body and mind from the busy day before we begin to move our bodies.
“Nadi” is a Sanskrit word meaning "channel" or "flow" and "shodhana" means "purification." Therefore, nadi shodhana is primarily aimed at clearing and purifying the subtle channels of the mind and body, while balancing its masculine and feminine aspects. It is a suitable and easy practice for most anyone.
Nadi Shodhana involves closing the right nostril with the thumb, taking an exhale and an inhale from the left nostril and then closing the left nostril with the ring finger, taking an exhale and an inhale from the right nostril, repeating the process switching sides over and over for a period of time. Nadi shodhana can calm the body OR energize the body depending on how you regulate the depth, length and energy of the breath. The benefits of this practice are numerous but here are the 5 benefits I think are the most important.
If you are feeling sluggish and need some energy, try alternate nostril breathing to give your body a boost of energy. By bringing some “energy” to the technique, it can act as a “pick me up” to that sluggish overall feeling.
2) Enhanced Mental Function
Alternate nostril breathing helps sharpen your concentration and mental clarity when your mind is dull. It provides equal amounts of oxygen to both sides of your brain. It is a great exercise to do before an important event where you need greater focus, like and exam, interview, or important meeting!
3) Calmness and Better sleep
Do you ever feel like you can’t quiet the chatter in your mind? Alternate nostril breathing also helps calm an “overactive” mind. By slowing down and extending both the inhalation and the exhalation, the body and mind will automatically start to slow down. The ancient yogis taught that if you can learn to regulate the way you breathe, you can gain greater control over your mind as well. This is particularly helpful when you experience times of stress or anxiety. Alternate nostril breathing also helps soften the intensity of an overly reactive emotional state. The longer you practice it, the more stable your mind and, thus, the calmer your emotions start to become. ***This is especially helpful if you are having trouble sleeping. Try doing this practice for at least 5:00 before bed and see if you fall asleep faster and more easily.
4) Soothed Nervous System
By focusing on your breath, slowing it down and deepening it, your brain will register a message for your nervous system to move from a stressed to a relaxation response. Breathing just through your left nostril (by blocking off your right nostril) can direct oxygen flow and energy into the right hemisphere of your brain, which turns on the parasympathetic nervous system (enabling relaxation).
5) Regulated Body Temperature
The left nostril is considered to be calm, cooling, feminine and nurturing. The right nostril, on the other hand, is associated with masculinity, heat, force and competition. Doing single nostril breathing in one nostril more than the other can enable you to feel warmer or cooler, depending on what you prefer at a given time.
You will also notice that sometimes one nostril is more clear than the other. This will change throughout the day and every time you practice so just take note of this and see how you feel physically, mentally and energetically after you do this practice.
I encourage you to try adding Nadi Shodhana or any other Pranayama practice into your day, even if you just start with a few minutes each day. The best part of a pranayama practice is that you can do it anywhere!
If you have any questions about Nadi Shodhana or any of the other breathing practices we use in my classes at Lotus Yoga and Fitness please feel free to ask me in person or shoot me an e-mail.