Nadi Shodhana Pranayama or Alternate Nostril Breathing is one of the most common and effective pranayama techniques. It can help with several respiratory disorders such as asthma, bronchitis, nasal allergy and it is also a great technique to reduce stress and anxiety as it calms the mind and brings in more clarity of thoughts.
Nadi = subtle energy channel;
Shodhana = cleaning, purification;
Pranayama = breathing technique.
Nadis are a network of subtle energy channels through which prana (life force) flows and nourishes the body and mind. They include physical pathways in the body such as the circulatory and nervous system but also purely energetic channels. These channels can get obstructed for various reasons causing health issues. Nadi Shodhana helps to clear these blockages so it is a powerful breathing technique to cultivate our physical well-being as well as mental tranquillity.
WHY IS SO IMPORTANT TO BALANCE AND UNBLOCK THE NADIS?
Ida, Pingala and Sushumna are three of the most important Nadis in the human body. They run from the base of the spine to the head passing through our main chakras (energy centers), Ida on the left, Sushumna in the centre, and Pingala on the right. Ida and Pingala are the two opposite forces flowing within us. Ida, also known as Chandra or the Moon Nadi is passive, introverted, feminine and related to the parasympathetic nervous system. Pingala also called Surya or the Sun Nadi is active, extrovert, masculine and related to the sympathetic nervous system.
When Ida is not functioning well it can cause a blocked left nostril, cold, depression, low mental energy and slow digestion. Whereas when Pingala is not working properly it can cause right nostril blockage, heat, quick temper, irritation, itching body, dry skin, excessive appetite and too much physical and sexual energy.
In Nadi Shodhana Pranayama we shift the breath from side to side, helping to balance Ida and Pingala, so prana can flow in the Sushumna Nadi. To comprehend better how this Pranayama works in our system it is important to know more about prana, nadis and chakras. To deeper explore the topic check my post “Theory of Prana”.
BENEFITS OF NADI SHODHANA
- Helps with respiratory disorders like asthma, bronchitis, nasal allergy
- Lowers heart rate
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Reduces anger and mood swings
- Calms the mind
- Helps with concentration
- Brings in clarity of thoughts
- Gives a pre-meditative state, perfect before meditation
- Synchronizes the two hemispheres of the brain
- Balances the nadis, purify Ida and Pingala and facilitates energy flow through Sushumna
- Releases pranic blockages
HOW TO DO IT
Find a comfortable seated position with your spine straight.
Place the left hand on the thigh in Chin Mudra (hand gesture) and raise the right hand in Nasagra Mudra. The thumb and the ring finger will be used to control the flow of the breath, gently closing the nostrils.
Gently close your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through your left nostril, then close it with your ring finger. Open and exhale slowly through the right nostril.
Keep the right nostril open, inhale, then close it, and open and exhale slowly through the left. This is one cycle. Repeat around 5 to 10 times.
To start, the time of inhalation and exhalation should be equal, using the ratio 1:1.
Release the hand mudra and go back to normal breathing taking the time for observation and absorption.
If there is no difficulty, later you can increase the count of the breath slowly until 10:10 is reached, exploring each new ratio for a while in your practice.
To better understand this technique you can follow my guidance in this video below.
After you understand this technique and feel comfortable with the ratio 1:1, you can also practice with longer exhalations and later on apply Kumbhaka which is the retention of the breath as well as Bandhas (energy locks).
To begin advancing your practice change the ratio to 1:2, initially practising the ratio 4 (inhaling): 8 (exhaling) and continue to extend the breath until 10:20 can be performed with complete ease.
After perfecting the ratio 1:2 you can advance your practice even further applying the retention of the breath, first working on the retention after an inhale (Antar Kumbhaka) in the ratios 1:1:1 and 1:2:2, and 1:4:2 and later adding also the retention after an exhale (Bahir Kumbhaka) aiming for a final ratio of 1:4:2:2 with the addition of bandhas.
*These advanced stages of the practice should not be intended without the guidance of an experienced teacher as they have several contraindications. I mention in this post just for the purpose of fully understanding the technique.
In addition, the development of Nadi Shodhana should happen over a long period of time practising every ratio until perfected. The full benefits of this pranayama will be obtained systematically, so rushing into advanced stages is likely to disturb the system as the body and mind need time to adapt to the effects of a new breathing pattern.
Pranayama can have a profound impact on our body, mind, nervous system, energy levels, emotions and other aspects of the personality so we have to be prudent when practising it. To understand better how prana affects the system, check my post “Theory of Prana”.
Saraswati, S. S. (1969), Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. Bihar, India: Yoga Publications Trust.
Kumar, S. (2019), Yogadarshanam Advanced Yoga Teachers Training Manual. Mysore, India: Yogadarshanam.
Townsend, P. (2018) Embodyoga In-Depth Study and 200hrs Teacher Training Manual. US: Embodyoga.
YJ Editors (2007, 2017), ‘Channel Cleaning Breath’, Yoga Journal, 28 August. Available at https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/channel-cleaning-breath (Accessed: 18 September 2020).
Gannon, S. (2008), ‘Nadi Shodhana’, Jivamukti Yoga, September. Available at https://jivamuktiyoga.com/fotm/nadi-shodhana/ (Accessed: 20 September 2020)
*This post was also published at Island Yoga Thailand’s Blog.