You’re stressed. It’s affecting every aspect of your life, but you’re always looking for tools to help. I got you.
Alternate nostril breathing is one of those tools. It’s quick, easy, and extremely powerful. You could be feeling like you’re basking in the sun in the middle of a vacation on the most beautiful beach in the world in no time.
If you’re like me, you get a little intimidated by new practices, ok maybe a lot. You know what helps me? Learning about them, getting to understand these practices. It puts my imposter syndrome a little more at bay.
Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nadi Shodhana Pranayama is an ancient yogic practice. It’s the first pranayama or breath control practice described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (one of the ancient texts of yoga). The practice is believed to balance the subtle energy, or prana, of the energetic body.
“When the whole system of the nadis which is full of impurities, is cleaned, then the Yogi becomes able to control the Prana.” – Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Ok. Let’s not get overwhelmed here. Let’s break this down.
Nadi = Flowing water, a river, or current; any tube or pipe, especially a tubular like organ.
Shodhana = Cleaning, cleansing or purification
Pranayama = Breath control
“Nadi” is a sanskrit word that means flowing water, a river, or current; it refers in this context to the energy channels in the subtle body.
Ok, but what’s the subtle body? Is your next question. In the simplest way, it’s your energetic body, it includes the nadis (energy channels), chakras (energy centres), prana (life force or breath), bindu (drops of energetic essence) and the kundalini (dormant potential force). It’s not restricted to your physical body.
➡ The Nadis are the energy channels in the subtle body through which prana and kundalini flow.
➡ Nadi Shodhana is a practice that purifies or clears the channels of the subtle body.
➡ Nadi Shodhana Pranayama is a breath control practice that purify the energetic channels of the body.
How does that happen?
By alternating the breath in each nostril.
So Nadi Shodhana Pranayama is a control of the breath through alternate nostril that purifies the energy channel in the subtle body.
But how really?
There’s one more thing we have to talk about for this to make more sense; how the nose relates to the autonomic nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system is divided into 3 parts. You need to know 2 of those to understand how it works: the parasympathetic (relax, rest, digest) nervous system and the sympathetic (fight, flight, freeze) nervous system.
So by Inhaling through the left nostril, we trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, which activates relaxation, rest, digestion, and healing responses in the body and by inhaling through the right nostril we stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which enhances your alertness, muscular and cardiovascular responses.
Can we just stop to appreciate how incredible this is?!
By choosing which nostril you use to inhale, you can make yourself either more relaxed (left nostril) or more energized (right nostril).
Now that we have established that, you’ll understand that alternate nostril breathing balances the nervous system by stimulating the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in equal amounts. For me, that’s the biggest benefit. It’s that bring me the beach effect. Since we tend to be overstimulated by stress on the fight/flight/freeze side, the effect of Alternate Nostril Breathing is a stress reliever, it helps reduce stress and anxiety, particularly when you start the cycle on the left nostril.
If you missed our episode on Yoga for Stress and Anxiety (#70), we talked about Alternate Nostril Breathing as a great tool to manage anxiety, I would recommend listening to that episode.
As it balances the nervous system, it’s also going to balance the hemispheres of the brain.
Other benefits include
- Helps the flow of energy
- Improves respiratory health
- Improves cardiovascular health
- Keeps us in present, because we focus on that control of the breath, we are active in a way where it’s hard for the mind to wander, so we stay away from past and future, away from worry and rumination
- Prepare for more advanced pranayamas
- Prepare for meditation, as it clears the mind, centers you, helps access a deep feeling of wellbeing and harmony
The last important thing to know about Alternate Nostril Breathing is when not to practice.
- It’s not recommended to practice Nadi Shodhana if you have the flu, a cold, a fever, or if your nostrils are blocked. Test your nostrils before starting. If they are partially blocked, try to clear them, by blowing your nose, taking a hot shower, practicing asana, or using a neti pot. If your nostrils are totally blocked, and you can’t unblock them, you can do a visualization of the air passing from side to side until they clear up.
- It’s not recommended to practice on a full stomach
- And while having a migraine… it could make it worst.
Do you feel ready to give it a try?
Check the blog article on How to practice for a step by step guide.
Practice with me on the premium membership: Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
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