Get ready for a series of blog posts covering all of the different kinds of Pranayama breathing techniques (also known as ancient Indian Yoga breathing practices).
Today I’m discussing Nadi Shodhana, also known as Alternate Nostril Breath.
Sounds glamorous, no?
Nadi Shodhana helps to calm the mind, keeping us focused on the present moment.
Beyond that, it serves to cleanse the Nadis, which are the subtle energy channels of the body.
When the Nadis are clear, we allow for a smooth, unobstructed flow of prana (which is our life force energy) throughout the body.
Nadi Shodhana helps our respiratory health and is wonderful for our nervous system. It’s a great pranayama to do to prepare the body and mind for meditation.
Now let’s dive a little deeper…
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Nadi Shodhana Breathing – Pranayama Techniques
Origins of Nadi Shodhana
The technique is called Nadi Shodhana and is sometimes described in English as alternate nostril breathing.
It was developed by ancient Indian yogis and is included in several medieval yogic texts such as the 15th Century Hatha Yoga Pradipika – which describes various yogic practices designed to purify the body, mind and sense organs.
Nadi’s are subtle energy channels that run through the body, not dissimilar to meridians of Chinese medicine.
Shodhana means cleansing or purifying.
So, the purpose of Nadi Shodhana is to cleanse two of the most important nadis, the Ida and Pingala nadis that run from the base of the sacrum up to each nostril.
For yogi’s, these nadis need to be purified so prana (life force) can travel up the central nadi (Sushumna) allowing the yogi to reach the highest state of inner awareness.
Blockages in these nadis are thought to negatively impact health.
Benefits of Nadi Shodhana
As well as its influence on the subtle body as described in the yogic texts, Nadi Shodhana has many physical health benefits.
There have even been several scientific studies into the benefits of Nadi Shodhana, which I’ve included more about below.
Something you might find interesting – which nostril is dominant as we breathe actually changes throughout the day.
This is known as the nasal cycle and each cycle normally lasts up to 2 hours.
Left nostril dominance is associated with more activity in the right side of the brain, and right nostril dominance is associated with more activity in the left side of the brain.
The reason this happens is thought to be due to increased oxygen supply to the brain through the dominant nostril.
It’s part of how our brain keeps functioning optimally and disruptions in the nasal cycle are linked to ill health. This is something the ancient yogis were aware of.
It’s thought that the regular practice of Nadi Shodhana may help regulate this process.
When I was taught this practice, one of the main benefits was described as reduced symptoms of asthma.
This could be due to the possible link between nasal congestion and asthma.
Practicing Nadi Shodhana clears the respiratory tract and calms the nervous system – therefore starting each day with the practice could reduce symptoms of asthma and hay fever.
Although I couldn’t find any studies related to improvements in symptoms of asthma through the practice of Nadi Shodhana, several studies are indicating positive benefits from the practice.
Here are my top three:
1) Reduces anxiety
This study of nurses preparing for examinations in Bengaluru, India found that 15 minutes of Nadi Shodhana twice daily had a significant effect on reducing their test anxiety.
2) Improves heart and lung function
This study showed decreases in both heart and respiratory rates after 15 minutes of practice and then again after 8 weeks of regular practice – suggesting that Nadi Shodhana initiates a parasympathetic nervous system response
3) Aides recovery from heart surgery
This study was interesting because it focussed on patients recovering from Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery.
As we’ve already seen Nadi Shodhana improves lung function and reduces anxiety but when paired with physiotherapy it also reduced depression and stress in patients recovering from heart surgery.
So now you’ve heard how great this practice is for you, here’s how to try it yourself.
Nadi Shodhan Pranayama Vs Anulom Vilom Pranayama
What is the difference between Nadi Shodhana Pranayama and Anuloma Viloma Pranayama?
Both are similar types of breathing exercises with little difference. Hence people confuse and use them interchangeably. However, there exists a clear difference between them.
In Nadi Shodan Pranayama, there is breath retention. But in Anulom Vilom Pranayama, there is no breath retention. However, both are Alternate Nostril Breathing exercises.
Nadi Shodhan Pranayam is little advanced practice – whereas Anulom Vilom is beginner-friendly.
How to practice Nadi Shodhana
Traditionally Pranayama practices are described from a seated position on the floor.
However, this might not be the most comfortable position for everyone to begin their practice.
The most important point is to sit with your back straight to allow the prana (subtle energy) to flow up your spine.
You could sit in a chair with your feet on the floor (using books or blocks as support if needed).
Or you could sit on the floor supporting yourself with cushions.
You may want to try a few different options to see what works for you.
It’s not uncommon for your arm to start aching when you begin this practice.
If this is the case you may need to support your elbow, either by resting your arm on a table if you’re seated in a chair or with your left hand.
Step by step guide to practicing Nadi Shodhana
- Take a few moments to find a comfortable seat. Begin to turn your awareness inwards by noticing your breath.
- Take your right hand and turn your palm to face you. Fold your index and middle fingers down so only your last two fingers and your thumb are pointing upwards.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb, and inhale through your left nostril.
- Close your left nostril with your two fingers and exhale through your right nostril.
- Repeat these actions 4 times more, inhaling through your left nostril and exhaling through your right nostril.
- After five repetitions reverse the flow. So, keep your left nostril closed and inhale through your right nostril. Do this for a total of 5 breaths.
- This constitutes one round of Nadi Shodhana. You can do as many rounds as you like, at any time of the day until you feel regulated. It doesn’t have to be part of your regular yoga practice. In the studies referenced above, participants practised Nadi Shodhana for 15 minutes a day.
Nadi Shodhana Breathing – Final thoughts
So, if you’re looking for a simple pranayama practice that will improve your health and immediately and calm your nervous system – why not give Nadi Shodhana a try?
You can include it as part of your daily yoga practice or at any other time of the day.
Share this with any friends and family that may benefit from the practice and don’t forget to let me know how it works for you.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what you are doing to change your life in the coming days and years!
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