Monday, August 22, 2016

Pranayama: Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

Happy Monday, yogis! I hope you had a restful and fun weekend.

I'm curious: do you practice pranayama (breathing techniques) at your yoga studio, or at home?

It's interesting to me how the culture of every yoga studio varies, and it seems like these days you can find both traditional classes which feature ancient, yogic breathing practices, and you can also find studios where you'll only hear about Ujjayi breath while in class.

Recently I've been incorporating nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, into my daily routine. I find that it relaxes my entire body, calms my mind, and helps me feel balanced.

Would you like to try it?

Find a comfortable seated position, and close your eyes. (Note, if this is your first time trying a pranayama technique, please see my note below.*)

Take a few moments to ground yourself. Allow your thoughts to settle.

Notice your body, any sensation, any area that draws your attention.

Then, notice your breath.

Where in your body do you feel your breath?

Let your awareness settle on the breath alone. You can begin counting your inhales and exhales. Inhale to a count of four; exhale to a count of four.

After a few rounds like this, we'll begin nadi shodhana, alternate nostril breathing.

Bring your right hand just in front of your face.

Bend your index and middle fingers, creating a sort of "y" shape with your hand. During this breath technique, you'll use your thumb to cover your right nostril, and your ring finger to cover your left nostril.

Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily, filling up your lungs.

Close your left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are closed; retain your breath at the top for a brief moment. Then, open your right nostril and release the breath through the right side, exhaling fully.

Inhale slowly through the right side, filling up again. At the top of the breath, hold both nostrils closed and pause for a moment.

Then open your left nostril and breathe slowly out through the left side. Pause briefly at the bottom.

Repeat for two to five minutes (or longer). Work up to longer periods of practicing this breath.

Here's a simplified explanation, in case that above description got a little confusing or wordy for you ;)

  • Exhale fully.
  • Cover your right nostril as you inhale on the left.
  • Pause at the top of the breath and close both nostrils.
  • Cover your left nostril as you exhale on the right.
  • (Keep your fingers as is as you) inhale on the right.
  • Pause at the top of the breath and close both nostrils.
  • Open your left nostril and exhale on the left.

Or, even more simply:
  • Inhale left, exhale right.
  • Inhale right, exhale left.
Once you get the hang of this breath technique, it's very relaxing.

Nadi Shodhana is a powerful yogic practice. This breath will allow you to: support your lung and respiratory system, balance the left and right hemispheres of your brain, clear your body's energetic channels, rejuvenate your nervous system and release stress.

*An important note: one of my favorite yoga teachers once explained to me that pranayama is a serious part of the yoga practice. It's important to establish a foundational yoga practice before you begin working on pranayama. Please practice with a teacher who is knowledgeable and can show you exactly how the breath technique works and who you can ask questions. 

Nadi Shodhana is a basic pranayama practice, so it would probably be OK for you to try it simply based on reading this post, but if you're getting into any other more complex breath practices, or any pranayama that involves holding (retaining) the breath, please do so with an experienced teacher in the room with you. As with anything in yoga, if any of these breath practices cause you any sort of anxiety, please skip them and go back to your normal breath in and out through the nose.


 All images in this post by Ken Johnson of Leggings by Ginger Orange Activewear.

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