Alternate nostril breathing is a yogic breath control practice. It is commonly used in breathwork training and practices. In Sanskrit, it’s known as nadi shodhana pranayama. This translates as “subtle energy clearing breathing technique.”
Alternate Nostril Breathing is a powerful technique that can balance, calm, and energize the mind. It can develop concentration and bring a sense of peace and clarity.
This type of breathwork can be done as part of a yoga or meditation practice. Alternate nostril breathing can also be done as its own practice to help you quiet and still your mind.
The Benefits of Alternate Nostril Breathing
- Promote overall well-being
- Infuses the body with oxygen
- Clears and releases toxins
- Reduces stress
- Reduces anxiety and depression
- Calms and rejuvenates the nervous system
- Helps to balance hormones
- Supports clear and balanced respiratory channels
- Helps to alleviate respiratory irritants
- Fosters mental clarity and an alert mind
- Enhances the ability to focus
- Brings balance to the left and right hemispheres of the brain
- It is one of the most effective ways to expand your lung capacity. Legendary freediver Jaqcues Mayol credited his success to the use of this exercise as did his mentee, Umberto Pellizari, who dove down to 120 meters on a single breath of air.
How to Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
- Sit upright in a comfortable position
- With a finger, close the left nostril
- Inhale through the right nostril to the absolute maximum
- Hold the breath in with full lungs
- Close the right nostril
- Exhale very slowly through the left nostril
- Increase mental sharpness
- Exhale to beyond neutral lungs
- Inhale through the same nostril, slowly drawing in as much air as possible
- Hold the breath again just for a moment
- Switch nostrils and exhale through the right nostril and so on
Nadi Shodhana Yoga Pranayama and The Brain
Incredible things happen when we practice breathwork, pranayama and breathing techniques. When breathing through the right nostril, you strengthen the left hemisphere of the brain. When breathing through the left nostril, it helps to improve the function of the right hemisphere of the brain.
Just five minutes of Alternate Nostril Breathing every morning, can help open the gates to gain access to your entire brain. Increasing oxygen to the brain reduces the brain bound free radicals, improving memory and cognition.
Another benefit of Alternate Nostril Breathing is that it supplies oxygen to the other vital organs in the body, such as the heart and lungs. Developing the technique of Alternate Nostril Breathing enhances the synchronization of the left and right brain hemispheres of the brain; the advantages after one full week of practice will amaze you.
Progressions to work on
Initially, simply extending the time spent inhaling and exhaling as a type of ladder can extend the capacity to remain calm and build breathing control. Work with a 1:1 rhythm, only pausing for a second or so on the breath in and out. Start with breathing in for 6, and out for 6 (6:6) and work up steadily to maintain a rhythm of 20:20.
Start extending the breath hold time on the inhale for up to 20 seconds, whilst maintaining a soft belly and loose, wide shoulders. You will generally find that the inhale takes half as long as the exhale. You can play around with different ratios, and also try breath holding on the exhale. Both will have a positive effect on lung capacity.
Try to work up to a 1:2:2 rhythm of 10:20:20 or 10:30:20 (breathe in:hold:breathe out:)