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Alternate Nostril Breathing

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

I love, love, love this practice and really miss it if I go too long without it. It's especially useful when life feels busy or you feel anxiety starting to creep it. Read on to learn why this breath is so incredibly powerful....

Harnessing the power of your breath

Breathing consciously is a hugely powerful act and one of the quickest and most effective ways to soothe our nervous systems. If we take quick, shallow breaths, we activate our sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system, telling our body it’s time for quick reactions and a ‘stress response’. If we take slow, deep breaths, pulling oxygen all the way down into our core, we activate our parasympathetic (rest-and-relax) nervous system, telling our body it’s time to calm down, effective inducing a relaxation response. Just by changing how we breathe, we can cause real physiological change in our bodies - stress hormones like cortisol and insulin start to drop, blood pressure normalises, heart rate slows, and digestion improves.

Alternate Nostril Breathing, or Nadi shodhana, intensifies the benefits of conscious breathing further still and is by far my all-time favourite yogic breathing exercise.

Traditional texts describe how it balances the flow of energy through the Ida and Pingala Nadis - the energy channels that double helix their way up the body from the pelvis, through the chakra points, to end at the nostrils. The flow of energy through Ida and Pingala is rarely equal and this can be felt via the breath through our nostrils. Check your breathing right now – can you feel a difference in the flow of air through one nostril or the other? It might be easier to hold a mirror under your nose as you breathe out. The exhaled air from each nostril will leave a moisture cloud on the mirror’s surface, and the difference in the breath “print” between the two sides illustrates which nostril is dominant.

Modern science shows that breathing through the left nostril (stimulating the Ida, more ‘feminine’ energy channel) triggers our rest/relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system) and breathing through the right (stimulating Pingala, our more ‘masculine’ energy channel) triggers our fight/flight response (sympathetic nervous system).

How incredible is that?! By choosing which nostril you breathe through, you can make yourself either more relaxed (left nostril) or more energised (right nostril)!!

And this is the magic of Alternate Nostril Breathing. By slowly and consciously breathing through each nostril for an equal amount of time, we can bring both energy channels and both parts of our nervous system into balance. And the magic doesn’t stop there - Alternate Nostril Breathing also brings both hemispheres of the brain into balance - this has been witnessed in MRI scanners (I love it when the science backs up tradition!!). Breathing through the left nostril stimulates the right side of our brain and, you guessed it😉, breathing through the right stimulates the left side of our brain. When we harmonize the two hemispheres of our brain, we encourage improved physical, mental and emotional well-being.

I love this practice and really miss it if I go too long without it. Practice every morning – just 10 or 15 minutes – on an empty stomach, or maybe tag it onto the end of a yoga asana sequence, and you’ll soon reap the rewards. It’s a great antidote to a busy lifestyle and to the stress and anxiety that’s creeping into so many of our lives right now. I’d love to know what you think!

Avoid this practice if you have a severe headache, fever, seizure disorder, or suffer from a serious mental health condition / psychosis. If you have a blocked nose, just practice through visualisation.

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