According to Yogic philosophy, one of the main ways to enhance the connection between body and mind is by breathing. Alternate nostril breathing is a powerful technique that can balance, calm, and energise the mind.
Did you know that each nostril corresponds to a different hemisphere of your brain? Your left nostril activates your right brain hemisphere, and your right nostril activates your left brain hemisphere. Alternate nostril breathing improves the connectivity between both hemispheres of your brain.
Each nostril cycles in dominance: have you noticed that it is sometimes easier to breathe out of one nostril than the other? We’ve written a separate article on the nasal cycle for you. Alternate nostril breathing restores the balance in your nasal cycle, which subsequently restores balance in your brain and body!
Alternate nostril breathing reduces feelings of stress and anxiety thanks to its deep meditative effects. Yogic texts state that alternate nostril breathing regulates the cooling and warming cycles of the body. It helps to lower your heart rate and blood pressure (Goyal et al., 2014), and revitalises your mind for clear thinking and faster reaction times (Dhadse & Fadia, 2013).
Next time you meditate, give alternate nostril breathing a try. Here is a basic alternate nostril breathing exercise:
- Sit upright in a comfortable position with your back straight. Place you left hand on your left knee.
- Bring your right hand to your face, with your index and middle finger placed on your forehead (over your third eye area).
- Use your thumb to close the right nostril and inhale slowly and consistently through your left nostril. Pause.
- Close your left nostril with your ring finger. Move your thumb to open your right nostril, and exhale slowly and consistently.
- Inhale through your right nostril, slowly and consistently. Pause.
- Close your right nostril, open your left, and exhale through your left nostril, slowly and consistently. Pause before moving onto the right nostril.
- Repeat this pattern for around 10 cycles. Then, release your right hand and rest it on your right knee. Return to normal breathing.
If you are already familiar with alternate nostril breathing and you’d like to advance your practise, here are two more exercises to try:
- Inhale through the left nostril, counting up to 16.
- Hold the breath by closing both nostrils, counting up to 64.
- In this time, make a sucking in effort that creates negative pressure inside the chest cavity (uddiyana bandha).
- Then, release the breath through the right nostril, counting up to 32.
- Repeat the process with the other nostril to complete the cycle.
This builds up anaerobic strength and improves your lung function (Gulhane & Rane, 2015). Alternate nostril breathing can improve lung function to a level that is comparable to athletic levels of fitness! (Prakash et al., 2007).
- Breathe in fully through the right nostril.
- Then, hold your breath with a lot of effort while maintaining the chin lock (jalandhara bandha).
- Hold your breath for as long as you possibly can.
- When it is time to exhale, do so out of your left nostril, slowly, continuously, and with patience.
- This should be repeated continuously.
This Pranayama is said to extend life and awaken the kundalini as well as increasing heat in the body. The opposition between the urge we feel to breathe and voluntarily suppressing this urge raises our body temperature so that we don’t need to shiver to raise our body temperature when it is cold.
It is possible to raise your body temperature enough to sweat using this method!
Raising your body temperature intentionally can ward off the common cold. Inducing a higher body temperature creates the ideal temperature for immune cells to thrive (Kox et al., 2014).
Have you tried alternate nostril breathing yet? Give it a go and let us know what you think in the comments!