Restore balance with Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) is a wonderful pranayama practice that can help to release tension, de-stress the mind and restore balance.
Your mind and body are continuously affected by the events and circumstances that life throws at you on a daily basis. If you do not take care of your personal wellbeing, you can start to feel overwhelmed, stressed and anxious. The energy within your body begins to stagnate, this can affect your physical and mental health. Leaving you prone to illness or a feeling of being ‘unbalanced.’
Nadi Shodhana is the most recognised pranayama practice and is one of the most important practices in yoga. (Saraswati N, 2012).
The word ‘nadi’ means energy channel (of which there are said to be 72,000 nadis in the body), and ‘shodhana’ which means to cleanse or purify. Therefore, the practice of Nadi Shodhana aims to cleanse and restore balance to the energy channels in the body.
Nadi Shodhana belongs in the category of Balancing Pranayamas (breathwork techniques). One of the main purposes of a balancing pranayama like Nadi Shodhana is to extend the period of balance in the nostrils. And therefore, you are able to experience meditation and hold the pranic energy internally for longer.
This particular practice works with the nervous system by removing any pranic (energy) blockages. and ultimately helping to restore the vital energies in the mind and the physical body.
Alternate Nostril Breathing is also an incredibly calming practice. Of all the many pranayama practices breathwork practices, Nadi Shodhana would be the one to practise regularly. It is performed by alternating the flow of breath between the left and right nostrils. When there is balance, the breath flows freely and evenly between both nostrils. When this happens the energy, the prana is balanced.
Its aim of Nadi Shodhana is to restore balance. Distributing prana or energy (our vital life force), evenly through two very important energy channels called Ida and Pingala nadis. These two channels crisscross their way around the Sushumna Nadi from the base of the body (Mooladhara Chakra) up to the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
By balancing the left and right hemispheres of the mind, a state of balance or equilibrium is restored to the body.
The link with Hatha Yoga
Bringing Ida and Pingala into balance is a major focus of Hatha Yoga. It is so important. In fact, the term “ha” “tha” symbolises this balance.
“Ha” represents the solar qualities. The masculine energy. The Pingala Nadi which links with the left side of the brain and the sympathetic nervous system. Here, the mind favours logic, visual and speech processes.
“tha”, on the other hand, represents the luna energy. The feminine aspects. Ida Nadi, which links with the right side of the brain and works with the para-sympathetic nervous system. This is our intuitive nature. It is connected with emotion and creativity.
Once the energy through Ida (left) and Pingala (right) Nadis are evenly distributed and working together this is when Sushumna Nadi (the central energy channel) can flow freely.
Restoring the flow of energy
Did you know that the flow of energy or breath in the nostrils is said to change every 90 minutes? (Saraswati, 2012).
When the right nostril is more active, i.e. the breath flows more prominently in this nostril. This reflects on the left hemisphere of the brain. This is the thinking side of the brain. This means you are more extraverted. It’s a good time for physical activity.
When the left nostril is more active this corresponds with the right hemisphere of the brain. This is the feeling side of your brain and you tend to be more introverted. In this instance you tend to be more internalised so it’s also a good time for reflection.
If the flow remains in one side, you are only experiencing one side of the self. So it’s important to restore the balance, the practice of Nadi Shodhana is the ideal tool to restore this equilibrium.
The benefits of Alternate Nostril Breathing
- Calms the body and central nervous system, encouraging a more tranquil emotional state.
- Releases tension and de-stresses the mind.
- Harmonises the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
- Balances the nervous system.
- Helps to bring the mind back to the present moment.
- Restores balance and helps to remove emotional and energy blockages in the body.
- Great preparation for meditation.
One step at a time
When you start practising Alternate Nostril Breathing it is important to begin with the entry level practices before moving to the most advanced. Ensure that the breath is flowing freely before you begin the practice. There should be no straining in your breathing. The breath is completely natural. Each stage should be mastered before moving onto the next.
How to practise Alternate Nostril Breathing.
- Be in a comfortable seated position. This can be either sitting on the floor in a meditation posture, or on a chair with the feet flat on the floor.
- Place the index finger and the middle finger of the right hand at the eyebrow centre.
- Closing the right nostril with the thumb, take 5 natural breaths in and out through the left nostril.
- On the 6th breath as you inhale, close the left nostril with the ring finger. Release the thumb from the right nostril.
- Take 5 natural breaths in and out of the right nostril.
- When you have completed 5 natural breaths on this side, lower the hand and take 5 natural breaths in and out of both nostrils.
- Repeat this whole process 2 more times and then release, Sit and observe the effects from the practice.
Once you have practiced stage 1 regularly for a few weeks, you can move on to the next stage.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 from Stage 1
- As you inhale through the left nostril, close the nostril with the ring finger and release the thumb from the right nostril and exhale through the right.
- Inhale through the right nostril, close the right nostril and then release the ring finger from the left nostril and exhale.
- Continue with this process for a further 5 rounds and then release the hand and observe the effects from the practice. Again, no breath should be completely natural.
If you liked this article, you may also like to read:
A guide to Breathwork for beginners