Alternate nostril breathing is probably the most famous pranayama (yogic breathing technique) of them all. Alternate nostril breathing (also known as Nadi Shodhan Pranayama or Anulom Vilom Pranayama), is a simple yet powerful pranayama, which produces a host of positive effects, while taking very little time to learn, and a small time to perform, on a daily basis.
I like this pranayama, both because of its simplicity and its power. As little as 5 minutes a day can produce a beneficial effect, on your overall health and well-being and it can be performed anywhere, at any time.
In hatha yoga there are a variety of pranayama’s, which can be deployed. But to be honest with you many of them are potentially dangerous, because manipulating our breathing cycle can easily disturb the balance of our nervous system, with devastating consequences. However, by and large alternate nostril breathing is free of these side effects, unless you practice this exercise excessively. It must always be remembered with yogic techniques, that more is not always better.
Benefits of Alternate Nostril Breathing:
Alternate nostril breathing has many benefits which include:
- Calming the nervous system and consequently the mind
- It helps to bring the mind back into the present, rather than fluttering back and forth between the past and the future
- The calming effect acts as a good way to begin meditation practice
- The calming effect helps to ground you so that you are more responsive to life
- It increases mental clarity
- It helps to improvise the respiratory system
- It helps to improve the circulatory system
- It harmonizes the right and left sides of the brain, thus balancing the analytical and intuitive aspects of the mind.
- It purifies the subtle energy channels(nadirs) which helps the flow of panic energy(life energy) around the body, which is good for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being
In summary alternate nostril breathing is a simple technique, which will you more grounded, calmer, balanced and energised. If I could summarise it in one word I would say ‘peaceful’. Alternate nostril breathing produces a deep inner peacefulness within seconds, which is a great thing when we are living in a stressful world.
Ideally alternate nostril breathing should be practiced just once a day, however, it can also performed on an ad hoc basis, when we want to bring ourselves back down to earth and de-stress ourselves, but make a point of not abusing it!
How to Perform Alternate Nostril breathing
- Sit comfortably with spine erect and shoulders in a relaxed position.
- Place the left hand on the left knee, with the palms opens facing upwards and the index finger and thumb touching at their tips (this is known as chin mudra).
- Meanwhile the tips of the index and middle fingers of the right hand are placed at the inner edges of the eyebrows, whilst the right thumb is held over the right nostril and the little finger is held vote the left nostril.
- Begin by pressing the thumb down gently against the right nostril while breathing in via the open left nostril.
- Lift the little finger from the left nostril and breathe out gently through the now open right nostril.
- Now repeat this process, this time from the right side, breathing win through the right nostril and out through the left nostril.
- 10 repititions (5 each side) make for 1 round. Begin with three rounds and slowly work up, over time, to 10 rounds. Perform once daily, or if under stress and tension, several rounds can always be deployed. But do not abuse this as it stimulates the nervous system and over stimulation is a really bad idea.
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While extremely safe, alternate nostril breathing can produce some problems if abused. So keep in mind the following:
- Never force the breathing, it should be natural and normal. Try to gently follow the breath and enter into the calmness. This is a real nice and natural way to accustom your mind to potential meditative states.
- Start with just a few rounds and slowly build up, don’t rush and don’t push.
- Do not carry it out excessively, as in dozens and dozens of rounds, as over time it will result in imbalances of the nervous system.
- For people who have chronic ill health such as high blood pressure, for instance, should start slowly and carefully. If any feelings of unease are present stop immediately. Restart later, gently and see how it goes. If after several gently attempts, feelings of unease are present, just drop this exercise. It stimulates the cardiovascular system, which is good, but in some cases, if a person’s health is fragile, it may stimulate it too much, so take care. There are many ways to relax the mind and purify the body, so try it out, if it feels good continue if not replace it with something else.
Considerations in Alternate Nostril breathing
There are also some other considerations to keep in mind
A). Blocked Nose: Having a blocked nose can prevent the proper execution of this exercise. However, it is easily remedied, simply breathe through one nostril!
Say your left nostril is blocked, then simply breathe through the right and breathe out through the left. You may find it impossible to breathe through one nostril, however, it is always possible to breathe out through a blocked nostril, even though it might be a slow process.
Now obviously if you breathe through one nostril repeatedly, this would be a bad thing, it will create an imbalance. However, forcing the breathing cycle will also cause a problem. So if one nostril is blocked, simply breath through the other nostril and later on that day make a point of breathing through the other nostril. So if you breathe 50 times through the right nostril, make a point of breathing 50 times through the left nostril, later in the day. From a pranic energy point of view, this should balance things out, more or less.
What must be kept in mind is that the breath cycles back and forth between the two nadis, over the course of a day. Usually around 2 hours per nostril; so 2 hour-ish of free breathing in the right nostril, followed by 2 hours-ish, through the left nostril etc. So even for someone without a blocked nose, one nostril will be dominant. So a person who has prefect breathing and follows alternate nostril breathing, the force will be stronger in one nostril anyway. So a blocked nose is simple an exaggeration of the normal state of affairs.
But what about a nose which is constantly blocked?
If your nose is constantly blocked then take a look at this article on how to unblock a blocked nose.
B). Ill health (High blood pressure and other chronic conditions): While ideally we should perform alternate nostril breathing, in some cases this is simply a bad idea. For instance, high blood pressure is often adversely affected by alternate nostril breathing. So first of all do not hold the breath, while performing this exercise. If you search online, some variations on this exercise will emphasise holding the breath, but I will give you a few words of advice here DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH DURING A BREATHING EXERCISE, UNLESS YOU ARE BEEN SUPERVISED BY SOMEONE WHO KNOWS WHAT THEY ARE DOING, as it is easy to run into health problems. While I love pranayama’s, I stick with the easy ones, as I don’t want to endanger my health and I advise you to do the same. If I ever come across a really experienced pranayama teacher, only then will I try the advanced stuff. For now, I am a health enthusiast and I stick with what I know, that works and I stay with something which works and which is safe.
So if you find some adverse effects, stop immediately, retry again later and if it still feels kind of wrong, do not push it, do not force it, try this instead.
Deep Breathing: Simply replace alternate nostril breathing with deep breathing. Breath in deeply, breath out deeply, repeat 10 times. Take a break for a minute and do this several times, as feels natural, but not forced. Simply breathing deeply (especially in the outdoors, where it is fresh and ideally early in the morning, when the air is highly oxygenated, will have a naturally peaceful calming effect, without any downsides!
So alternate nostril breathing is a great breathing exercise; it’s easy to perform, can be performed anywhere, at any time and will help you to become more grounded, calmer and basically more together as a,person,as long as you don’t abuse it!