Nadi Shodhana pranayama or ‘channel cleansing breath’ is also known as ‘alternate nostril breathing’, and the idea is to clear each nostril so the air can flow freely, while also balancing the activity in the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
‘Nadi’ refers to our subtle energy channels within the body, through which flows our ‘prana’ or ‘life force’. You could think of this sort of like very important veins of the subtle body, which carry the stuff that makes us feel vital and healthy. When energy is flowing through these channels, we feel our best emotionally and physically – but when something is blocked, we may feel ‘unbalanced’ or ‘stuck’.
Whether you adhere to this concept or not, pranayama exercises have a very physical and profound impact on the mind and body, and are an important part of the whole practice of yoga.
The left nostril is linked to our ‘Ida’ Nadi – the more feminine side – related to cool sensations, calmness and creativity. Breathing primarily through the left nostril also activates the right side of the brain, which happens to be the side related to creativity, introversion and nurturing qualities. The right nostril links to our ‘Pingala’ Nadi – the masculine side of us, related to extroversion, activity, and fieriness. Breathing through the right nostril primarily activates the left side of the brain, related to the more masculine elements of logic, critical thinking and motivation.
Bringing these two sides of the brain in to balance helps us to literally feel more balanced within ourselves. This technique allows for clearer thinking, a heightened sense of awareness, and a much calmer mind. Studies conducted on students practicing Nadi Shodhana showed that this pranayama technique actually greatly improved respiratory function, reduced activity in the sympathetic nervous system (the system linked to the ‘fight or flight’ stress response), an increased sense of wellbeing and increased mental clarity and emotional stability. Breathing rhythmically and slowly with focus for an extended period of time is also known to slow the heart rate and help to lower blood pressure, so this simple breathing technique can serve to be a powerful stress reducer when we take the time to practice.
Practicing Nadi Shodhana is great to do if you feel nervous before a test, if you feel anxious or worried, or if you simply need to feel more ‘balanced’. Practicing this technique regularly after your asana practice (physical yoga practice) calms the body and mind and is the perfect preparation for meditation.
Practicing Nadi Shodhana (Channel Cleansing Breath)
- Sit in Sukhasana (easy cross legged pose) or if this isn’t comfortable for you, lie in Savasana.
- Take the right hand in to Vishnu mudra:
- Either rest the left hand in the lap, or take it in to cin mudra, resting on the left knee:
- Taking the right hand up to the nose; close the right nostril with the thumb and exhale out of the left nostril.
- When you have fully exhaled; inhale again through the left nostril and close the left nostril with the right ring finger.
- When the left nostril is closed, open the right nostril and exhale.
- When you have fully exhaled; inhale again through the right nostril and close the right nostril with the thumb.
- Exhale through the left nostril fully.
- Continue to practice in this way for around five minutes to start with and notice the calming, balancing effects it has.
Take this practice with you anywhere and use when you feel a little ‘unbalanced’!