This breathing is a voluntary doorway to the involuntary body, a conscious doorway to the subconscious mind. ~A.G. Mohan
Nadi Shodhana, commonly referred to as alternate nostril breathing, is a simple but highly effective practice that cultivates a feeling of centered calm in the mind and body. It is clinically shown to have a beneficial effect on several cardiovascular parameters, harmonize the hemispheres of the brain, as well as the nervous system.
The Nadi system, a tubular passageway in which vital life force (prana) flows, can be directly accessed through this specific breathing practice, effecting both the physical body and the mind. The nostrils serve as an interface with the physical, energetic, and causal body.
Although there are many variations to this pranayama, and can become quite complex, these instructions serve as a basic starting point. The purpose of this pranayama is to regulate the flow of prana, via the nostrils. It is considered very safe and has no known contraindications if done without retention (holding of the breath).
Sit comfortably, in a chair or in an easy cross-legged position, with your spine erect and shoulders relaxed. Place your left hand on the left knee, palm down.
Bring your right hand into Vishnu Mudra, which is like a Yogi “hang loose” hand gesture, but with the ring finger extended. Use the thumb of your right hand to close the right nostril, and the ring finger to close the left nostril. If this causes you discomfort in your hand, alternatively place the tip of the index finger and middle finger of the right hand in between the eyebrows, then the ring finger on the left nostril, and the thumb on the right nostril.
- Press your thumb down on the right nostril and breathe out gently through the left nostril.
- Breathe in from the left nostril and then press the left nostril gently with the ring finger. Remove the right thumb from the right nostril, breathe out from the right.
- Breathe in from the right nostril and exhale from the left. This is one round of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama.
Beginners should start with sama vritti (equal breathing) on both inhale and exhale, without breath retention. For example, breathe in the left nostril for the count of four, exhale right nostril for the count of four, inhale right nostril for the count of four, exhale the left nostril for the count of four.
You can begin to lengthen the breath by one count, being mindful to retain the feeling of comfort and steadiness.
Keep your eyes closed throughout and continue taking long, full, smooth breaths without any force or effort. You can rest your elbow on a table or arm chair for comfort.
Spend a few minutes to return to a natural breathing pattern and either proceed to meditation, or go about your day.