It seems like all the blogs and even your favorite yoga instructor are always talking about pranayama breathing…
…but nobody ever talks about what these breathing exercises actually are. Or what they do for you.
And I wanna change that.
My pranayama practice has been so important to my health and well-being that I honestly can’t imagine what my days would be like without it. I seriously might lose my mind!
It helps to reduce stress and anxiety by resetting the vagus nerve, which directly affects the parasympathetic nervous system.
And for those of you (like me) who haven’t been in school in a LONG time, the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for our ‘rest and digest’ mode. It helps lower our heart rate and relax our muscles so that we are physically prepared to rest our bodies.
In fact, this breathing practice lowers both systolic blood pressure AND diastolic blood pressure.
As you can imagine, this does wonders if you’re wound up tight with stress and anxiety.
Needless to say, this yogic exercise has saved me countless times.
So what is it?
Pranayama breathing exercises are a type of yogic breathing that dates back to the very beginning of yoga. There are many different types of yogic breathing exercises, but in this video, I teach you how to do alternate nostril breathing (or Nadi Shodhana).
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Just like all variations of yogic breathing, this practice focuses on breath awareness for both the inhalation and exhalation. We use our hand to control the air flow through the nasal passages and hold the breath in between the inhalation and exhalation.
It unites both brain hemispheres during the process, giving you a feeling of calm and peace as your body gently settles into resting mode.
So, are you ready to reduce your stress levels and finally relax? Then grab a meditation pillow, my friend, and join me for this ancient yogic breathing practice.
Press play on the video up top or read the transcription below!
How to Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing – Nadi Shodhana
Hi, I’m Brett Larkin.
Today I’m going to be showing you how to do alternate nostril breathing, Nadi Shodhana, which is a Pranayama breathing technique in yoga.
Everyone can benefit from this simple breathing practice. Unlike some of the more stimulating breathing techniques in yoga, this one is safe for pretty much everyone to practice.
If you have high blood pressure or are pregnant like me, you can simply modify this breath by taking shorter inhales and shorter exhales, which I’ll walk you through in a moment. For now, know that alternate nostril breathing balances your nervous system, brings the left and right hemispheres of the brain into balance and helps draw your attention inward.
In fact, this technique is so effective at calming your nervous system that it’s actually my favorite breathing technique to practice. Before you come to sit for meditation, you might find it much easier to meditate and quiet your mind if you practice Nadi Shodhana first.
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Elevate Your Hips in a Seated Position
Begin by finding a comfortable meditation seat in which your hips are elevated higher than your knees. Make sure you’re sitting on the edge of your cushion or blanket so your low back has that nice neutral curve. The spine should be nice and long.
Step 2: Block Your Left Nostril With your Ring Finger
Use your thumb to hold down your pointer and middle finger and then use your ring finger to block your left nostril. Breathe in through your right nostril for three counts.
Step 3: Hold and Exhale on Left Side
Hold in, block both nostrils using your thumb, and then exhale out the left side for three counts.
And then you’ll repeat, inhaling on the left for three pause blocking both nostrils and then exhaling out the right for three.
Now, if this hand position is a little tricky for you, this holding down of the fingers and using this mudra, you can just keep it really simple and just take all three middle fingers down and have this mudra and just block the left with the pinky and the right with the thumb.
Experiment with both this and this and see which works best for you. An important detail here is you want to make sure you’re blocking right below the bony cartilage in your nose, so not too far down on the nostril. You want to be right up right below that bony cartilage.
You can begin to modify this breath by extending the inhales, the exhales, and the breath retention. So for example, in our sample, we inhaled for three, paused, and we exhaled for three, inhaled for three, paused very briefly, and exhaled for three.
However, as you become more advanced in this breath, you can begin extending those inhales and exhales and the breath retention in the middle.
For example, try inhaling for five, pausing at the center for five, and then exhaling for five. Or inhaling for eight, pausing at the center for two, and exhaling for eight.
You just want to make sure the inhales and exhales are always equal length.
The breath retention where you hold both nostrils closed at the top is optional, especially if you’re new to meditation or pregnant. You may want to skip that breath retention piece all together, but some people find that is one of the most magical places that you can really quiet the mind when you’re sort of holding and retaining the breath in before exhaling to either side.
Let’s try a few more rounds together with the simple three.
Count for the inhale and exhale, just holding for one at the center, picking whatever mood is going to work best for you.
Try Alternate Nostril Breathing At Home
Let’s all block the left nostril. Exhale through the right. Inhale through the right, hold and block both so the thumb presses the right nostril, and exhale through the left.
Inhale, hold and block both. Exhale, right.
Practice this a few more times on your own, inhaling the right, finding a gentle pause, exhaling left. Inhaling, laugh, hold, block both right under the bridge of the nose. Exhale, right.
Do three or four more rounds on your own.
Try to keep the rest of the body relaxed. Shoulders glide down and back and head aligns directly over the tailbone. Visualize yourself getting longer and taller from the base of the spine, all the way to the crown of the head. Do three more rounds on your own.
Finish up whatever round you’re on. Breathing out the left or right nostril and just let that right hand return back to the right thigh or your lap. Close the eyes. Inhale. Take a deep breath in, breathing in through both nostrils, keeping the chest lifted.
Exhale, allow the sitz bones to be heavy. Two more like that. Inhaling, getting taller through the crown of the head. Exhaling, allowing the sitz bones to weigh down over the course of the next few breaths, just observing the quality of your energy. After practicing this simple breathing technique, with your eyes closed, you can simply inquire within if you feel more balanced or more calm.
And with complete acceptance for however it is you do feel.
You may choose now to stay here in a comfortable meditation, or bring the hands together to prayer at heart center to move on with the rest of your day, whichever you choose.
Thank you for breathing and practicing with me from my heart to yours, namaste.