Alternate Nostril Breathing: Learn How To Breathe Your Way Into a State of Peace
I first learned alternate nostril breathing at the young age of 18. I can still remember why I decided to try it: I had read in a book that if I did 9 rounds of alternate nostril breathing daily for 3 months that it would fully and completely purify my entire nervous system, and that continuing this practice for the rest of my life was an ancient secret to physical immortality.
Pretty big claims huh?
What I remember back then (as a total novice to Pranayama or any type of breathwork) is that it was pretty effective at clearing out my sinuses. I did go the full three months just to see what happened, but at that time I was very undedicated, and I soon forgot all about it.
It wasn’t until I recently that I picked it back up, more out of sheer curiosity than anything else, just to see what happened if I practiced it diligently. Maybe it was the claims that it was a technique to achieve physical immortality, and maybe it was that I’ve seen it being taught and talked about in nearly every yoga book, video, or website I’ve come across.
I was also curious if it could cure the persistent sinus infection I’d been dealing with for an unusually long amount of time.
Undoubtedly one of the appeals of alternate nostril breathing (traditionally referred to as Nadi Sodhana) is how user-friendly it is. Many traditional yogic pranayamas (breath control techniques) can be tricky, involving the practice of slowing and/or holding the breath at certain intervals, or mastering certain postures or locks to perform them properly. Some can even be unsafe to attempt without one-on-one training.
But Nadi Sodhana can be performed quite easily by anyone, and the benefits of practicing it are vast. Regular practice of alternate nostril breathing has been said to:
- Balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain, leading to an intertwining of logical thinking with intuition
- Regulate the temperature of the body
- Improve and regulate both the cardiovascular and the respiratory systems
- Heal and purify the nervous system
- Purify the lungs and sinuses
- Put the mind into a perfect state for meditation
- Boost energy levels
- Improve sleep
- Balance the Ida and Pingala, the solar and lunar channels of the astral body, enabling a full expression of the flow of prana through the entire energy system (this is also a necessary prerequisite to many more advanced forms of yoga as well)
- Oxygenate the blood
- Balance the appetite
And, again, as I mentioned above, some say that it can be a contributing practice to physical immortality (you can be your own judge of that).
How to do Nadi Sodhana
If there’s one thing I’ve found in researching this technique, it’s that it is taught in many different ways, and with several different variations. I will share the way I have been practicing. (I am not by any means saying that my way is better than any others, and I encourage you to pick a form of practice that resonates most with you, and/or to consult your teacher if you have one.)
Step 1: Sit in a comfortable posture with your spine straight and your body relaxed.
Step 2: Place your left hand in the wisdom gesture (Gnana Mudra) by lightly touching the tip of your index finger to the middle of your thumb, and rest it on top of your left knee.
Step 3: With your right hand, perform Shiva Mudra by folding your middle and index fingers firmly into your palm, allowing your thumb to naturally extend out of the palm, and letting your last two fingers relax and gently curl inwards alongside the other two fingers. You will be using your thumb to block the right nostril, and the first knuckle of your ring finger to block the left nostril.
Step 4: Block the right nostril with your thumb and inhale fully and evenly through the left nostril. As you begin to breathe, close your eyes and gently gaze towards the third eye between the eyebrows.
Step 5: Without pausing, block the left nostril with the knuckle of your ring finger, and exhale fully and evenly out of the right nostril.
Step 6: Again without pause, inhale fully and evenly through the right nostril, and out through the left. This makes one round total.
Step 7: Repeat to complete the desired amount of rounds.
Precautions and Recommendations
It is generally recommended that if you are new to the practice, to start out with only three rounds at a time, then move to six rounds in a week, and up to nine rounds in another week. It is also recommended that you not practice if there is any undue strain or tension involved. However, if you do notice slight congestion in one of the nostrils, breathe gently and evenly and you may find that the technique itself clears the blockage.
My Experiences with Nadi Sodhana
I picked up the practice again six weeks ago. This was around a time in my life where I was going through a great deal of upheaval. I had recently ended several relationships with people I’d been close to, I was making big changes to my business and work routine, and my body was obviously going through some type of purification and upheaval as well. My sinuses and throat were especially giving me trouble.
I decided to diligently practice 9 rounds, three times per day, and this is what happened in my experience:
Week 1: There were some days that I could barely practice. My nose was too clogged up to breathe alternately from nostril to nostril. In these moments, I had to wait until I felt more clear, and then try again.
Week 2: By the second week, I was already noticing a big improvement in my sinuses; most of all the reduction of gunk in my nostrils. I was not having any more trouble with blockages, and the practice was becoming much more pleasurable. I was also beginning to notice that it helped me feel great in the morning if I started out the day with 9 rounds.
Week 3: By week three, my sinus infection was basically gone, and air was flowing freely through both nostrils at almost all times. I was also beginning to notice very pleasurable subtle energy sensations moving through my solar plexus and chest areas during certain times as I breathed. It felt very akin to the sensations one experiences during a rebirthing breathwork session, though not quite as intense.
Week 4: At this point, I had fallen completely in love with the practice. I’d been sleeping better, feeling more relaxed and at ease in general, and experiencing a good degree of euphoria and “lightness” in my body. I noticed a difference in my eating habits and food cravings as well. Sugar, caffeine, and junk food became a lot less appealing. In general, I felt like I had begun a mental/spiritual/physical purification.
Weeks 5-6: The past two weeks have been particularly interesting, and some things have occurred that I definitely didn’t expect. One interesting development: My need for sleep has decreased significantly. I do not seem to need as much sleep to have energy throughout the day. Also, at the time of writing this, I am on a fast. It is the easiest fast I have done in years. I have definitely noticed over the past two weeks that my appetite has not only decreased, but that it has become incredibly easy and more pleasurable to fast altogether. I feel as though I am being sustained by other means than the food I would be normally eating. The fasts do not feel like acts of discipline – they are natural, spontaneous, and inspired.
Of course, this is all my own experience, and what is much more important is how YOU experience it. I give this practice a huge thumbs up, and encourage anyone to give it a try for a few months, if only to experience the benefits for yourself.
Again, there are many more advanced forms of practice for this particular technique, but I have found (at least for me) that this more basic form is quite powerful and pleasurable. I don’t know that I will have any desire to move on to the advanced practices for quite some time. Have your grandchildren look me up in 150 more years and see if I’ve become immortal! 😉
I’m interested to hear what benefits you get from Nadi Sodhana and how you practice it. Don’t hesitate to share your own experiences in the comments below!
Wishing you peace, health, happiness, and success.