Alternate nostril breathing, also called Nadi Shodhana or Nadi Suddhi, creates a sense of physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It is done by alternating nostrils while breathing. Doing so balances right and left-brain integration, promotes mental clarity, and whole brain functioning. It can relieve headaches and sinus problems. It calms emotions and fosters feelings of deep inner contentment and balance. Due to its soothing effect, it is ideal preparation for deep relaxation or meditation.
Time: 2 minutes of daily practice. Increase gradually to 10 minutes or longer
The nadis (pronounced NAH-deez) are the non-physical nerve channels within the body. The nadis deliver prana, the life force, throughout the body. While there are thought to be over 72,000 nadis that travel throughout the body, there are three primary ones that run along the spine. Alternate nostril breathing balances these nadis.
- The ida (pronounced EE-dah) is energetically to the left of the spine and is activated by the exhalation. It is associated with the receptiveness, intuition, and passivity.
- The pingala (pronounced pin-GAH-lah) is activated by the inhalation and is energetically on the right. It is associated with activity, logic, and objectiveness.
- The sushumna (pronounced sue-SHOOM-nah) is the central channel. It is activated by the gap between breaths. It is linked with wisdom and the balancing of our active and receptive nature.
The first step to the practice is to learn the proper hand position to aid in the alternation of the breath. Two hand positions (mudras) are offered. Both are effective. Try them both to find out which feels easier for you. Take a few minutes to get used to switching between nostrils with the hand positions before adding the breathing patterns.
The first way, named Vishnu Mudra, is to take your right hand and bend your index and middle fingers toward the palm. Your thumb, ring, and pinky fingers are upright. Next, get used to gently closing your right nostril first with your thumb, and then release the thumb and close your left nostril with the ring finger of your right hand. Switch back and forth until it feels smooth.
Nasagra Mudra is another hand position that can be used. Begin by making the peace sign with your right hand. Next, bring your pointer and middle fingers together and then release your thumb. Place the pads of your index and middle fingers in the center of your forehead or between your eyebrows and then use your thumb and the knuckle of your ring finger to alternately close and release your nostrils.
The rhythm of the inhalation to the exhalation is usually uneven at first. With practice, it will smooth out so they become equal in length. When this is easy for you, begin slowing the exhalation down so that it becomes longer than the inhalation until eventually the exhalation is about twice as long as your inhalation. More breathing ratios are below. Maintain alertness of your breath instead of breathing mechanically.
While either hand position can be used, the Vishnu Mudra is used to describe the pattern for the sake of clarity. The pattern alternates nostrils after each inhalation like this: Exhale – inhale / change nostril / exhale – inhale / change nostril, etc.
Here’s how to practice one round of alternate nostril breathing:
- Come into a comfortable seated position with your spine erect.
- Form your fingers of your right hand into Vishnu Mudra by curling your index and middle fingers into your palm, straighten the ring and little fingers, and place your thumb against your right nostril.
1. Gently exhale and then inhale through your left nostril.
2. Close the left nostril with the ring finger.
3. Release the thumb. Gently exhale and then inhale through the right nostril.
4. Close that nostril with the thumb and continue with step 1.
- In other words, repetition is done by alternating nostrils after each inhalation.
- Begin practicing for two minutes and gradually, very gradually, increase to ten minutes. Avoid strain or force.
Breathing Ratio Variations for alternate nostril breathing: Take your time with these ratios. Never rush. Do not force or strain. Do not use breath retention if you have hypertension or other cardiac conditions.
The examples given are to the count of 4. This can be adjusted to 3, 4, 5 or 6 depending upon your comfort level. Count by silently saying Om 1, Om 2, Om 3, Om 4, etc.
- Ratio of 1:1 – Develop breath control so that the inhalation and the exhalation are exactly the same length of time. Inhale for the count of 4. Exhale for 4. . Do not proceed until perfected.
- Ratio of 1:2 – Double the length of the exhalation. Inhale for the count of 4. Exhale for 8. Do not proceed until perfected.
- Ratio of 1:2:2 – Addition of breath retention. Inhale to the count of 4. Hold the breath for 8. Exhale for 8. Do not proceed until perfected.
- Ratio of 1:4:2 – Inhale to the count of 4. Hold 16. Exhale 8. Do not proceed until perfected.
- Ratio of 1:4:2:3 – Inhale 4. Hold 16. Exhale 8. Hold the exhalation 12. Do not proceed until perfected.
Note: Alternate Nostril Breathing was adapted and reprinted with permission from Julie Lusk’s books
- Yoga Meditations: Timeless Mind-Body Practices for Awakening, published by Whole Person Associates, Duluth, MN
- Yoga Nidra for Complete Relaxation & Stress Relief, published by New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, CA