Updated: Aug 26, 2022
You feel it in the air: the winds of change are upon us.
This month's mini home practice is called nadi shodhana, also known as alternate nostril breathing. Nadi shodhana invites present centered awareness by energetically balancing us during times of transition and chaos.
Clear out what you don't need and welcome in clarity. If you feel overwhelmed by planning and doing, try this simple technique and discover your inner reset button.
Nadi Shodhana is a type of pranayama, or Yogic breathing technique.
Nadi shodhana is having a moment. It's become popular with the growing mindfulness movement, and more people are learning about it in the age of Yoga with Adriene. But its use as a healing practice dates back to ancient times and is rooted in Ayurvedic medicine practices.
Nadi Shodhana is quick and effective, many times offering transformative effects in under 5 minutes.
Why it works
Nadi means channel, and shodhana means purification. In the Yogic tradition, the nadis represent energetic pathways allowing prana, or life force energy, to flow. Modern interpretations of the nadis correlate these pathways to neurological connections.
For example, the energetic pathway (or nadi) engaging the right side of the body and the left hemisphere of the brain is called the "pingala." Pingala energy is active and extroverted. The nadi connecting the left side of the body and the right hemisphere of the brain is called "ida." Ida energy is more passive and introverted.
In times of transition, we get busy. We feel overwhelmed as pingala energy takes over. We feel stressed. Yet we don't allow ourselves to rest.
We need something to help us restore balance, and quickly.
This is where nadi shodhana can help.
The right nostril is associated with pingala; the left with ida. By breathing in and out of your nostrils alternately for a few minutes, we disrupt our energetic status quo, essentially resetting our nervous system function. We do this through conscious regulation of the breath, which is normally an unconscious process.
On a physical level, the nostrils are the gateways of breath. Your nostrils act like a personal HVAC system, conditioning and filtering your air for optimal humidity, temperature, and purity from airborne particles. Nasal breathing provides benefits that mouth breathing does not.
Ready for a little known fact about your nostrils?
You spend most of your time breathing through only one nostril.
It's true! Studies have established that our bodies have a natural nasal cycle in which we switch nostril dominance every 30 minutes to 3 hours. They suggest that nostril dominance is correlated to the activation of our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system responses, both of which are essential to our survival.
Both states are normal, yet we need to be able to shift between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system responses freely in order to function optimally.
The sympathetic response is often described as a fight or flight state. The parasympathetic response is the body's rest and digest state. Studies show that the effects of chronic stress cause us to get stuck in a sympathetic mode, and that chronic sympathetic response is associated with detrimental health outcomes.
How can we change our physiology and combat stress?
Why, using our breath of course! Ask any yoga instructor and they'll tell you it's true.
Or, consult the experts.
Research on the effects of breath practices shows that breath practices allow us to shift the chronic sympathetic nervous system state in order to return to a place of energetic balance within the nervous system.
Breath practices are the answer!
Well, at least they are an answer. Maybe they are your answer. And there's only one way to find out...
Let's try it
To prepare, find a comfortable upright seated position in a chair, or sit on a folded blanket or cushion on the floor.
Seal your lips and breathe freely through your nose.
Place the thumb and ring finger of your dominant hand lightly upon the outer skin of both your nostrils. Make sure you are lightly touching both nostrils at the same time, and that you are able to breathe in and out through your nose.
You are now ready to gently open and close each of your nostrils using light pressure. Your thumb will open and close one of your nostrils. Your ring finger will open and close the other nostril.
Then, close one of your nostrils. (Don't get too worried about which one.)
Next, breathe in, switch nostrils, and breathe out.
Repeat this pattern: breathe in, switch nostrils, and breathe out.
And again. Breathe in, switch nostrils, breathe out.
Breathe in. Switch nostrils. Breathe out.
Continue for about five minutes or so. Breathe thinly and easily rather than forcing the air. You could optionally enhance the calming effect by lengthening the breath out longer than the breath in. Find a rhythm that feels easy and sustainable.
Finally, let the practice go.
Notice how you feel. Do not skip this step! Take a moment to notice the effects of the practice.
How to use this practice
Five minutes is a nice amount of time to begin with when doing this practice. You could set a timer, or practice until you feel complete.
If you wish, you could extend the practice for up to 30 minutes if you really want to go for it. Many people report transformative effects at this dosage.
But as a therapy for stress, shorter might be better, given the fact that people often feel they don't have enough time for self care. Even two minutes could be enough to give you a desired effect.
Didn't enjoy it?
For some, conditions such as deviated septum or trauma can make breath practices such as nadi shodhana uncomfortable. If that's the case for you, don't worry. There are many other types of practices that provide options to find energetic balance. Nadi shodhana is just one practice, and it may or may not be right for you.
If you did enjoy the practice, you can use nadi shodhana any time you feel stressed, especially during transitional seasons like the end of summer. You could use it as needed, or make it part of your routine and practice once daily. Some people practice two or even three times per day as a therapy to shift serious symptoms associated with stress disorders.
Experiment with what works for you.
Discover for yourself the profoundly grounding benefits of this simple, quick healing practice.
It has been said that the only constant is change. Stay present with whatever changes this time of year brings for you.