Yoga in Bury St Edmunds

Nostrils & Mind Calming!

Breathing for relaxation and stress relief

Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

If you don’t do anything else, this is a simple yoga breathing exercise that can be done virtually anywhere, anyplace. You will be glad you did. It is really powerful! However, you may, like me think at first that it is “rather weird and freaky” but trust me, it works brilliantly for reducing your stress levels, calming your mind, lowering your blood pressure and inducing deep relaxation…give it a go!

The name alternate nostril breathing is due to the fact that we alternate between the two nostrils when we do the breathing exercise. Yogis believe that this exercise will clean and rejuvenate your vital channels of energy, thus the name nadi sodhana (purification of nadis or energy channels – unseen at present by the common eye but used in therapies such as Acupuncture, Reiki etc).

With this exercise, we breathe through only one nostril at a time. The logic behind this exercise is that our normal breathing does alternate from one nostril to the other at various times during the day. In a healthy person the breath will alternate between nostrils about every two hours. Because as most of us are not in optimum health, this time period varies considerably between people and further reduces our vitality. According to the yogis, when the breath continues to flow in one nostril for more than two hours, as it does with most of us, it will have an adverse effect on our health. If the right nostril is involved, the result is mental and nervous disturbance. If the left nostril is involved, the result is chronic fatigue and reduced brain function. The longer the flow of breath in one nostril, the more serious the illness will be.


Benefits of Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

The exercise produces optimum function to both sides of the brain: that is optimum creativity (right brain) and optimum logical verbal activity (left brain). This also creates a more balanced person, since both halves of the brain are functioning properly.

The yogis consider this to be the best technique to calm the mind and the nervous system.

The Scientific Confirmation of Alternate Nostril Breathing

Medical science has recently discovered the nasal cycle, something that was known by the yogis thousands of years ago. Scientists have recently found that we don’t breathe equally with both nostrils, that one nostril is much easier to breathe through than the other at any particular time and that this alternates about every three hours. The yogis claim that the natural period is every two hours, but we must remember these modern studies were done on people who do not have an optimum health level.

Scientists also discovered that the nasal cycle corresponds with brain function. The electrical activity of the brain was found to be greater on the side opposite the less congested nostril. The right side of the brain controls creative activity, while the left side controls logical verbal activity. The research showed that when the left nostril was less obstructed, the right side of the brain was predominant. Test subjects were indeed found to do better on creative tests. Similarly when the right nostril was less obstructed the left side of the brain was predominant. Test subjects did better on verbal skills.

Medical science has not quite caught up with the ancient yogis yet. The yogis went one step further. They observed that a lot of disease was due to the nasal cycle being disturbed; that is, if a person breathed for too long through one nostril. To prevent and correct this condition, they developed the alternate nostril breathing technique. This clears any blockage to air flow in the nostrils and re-establishes the natural nasal cycle. For example, the yogis have known for a long time that prolonged breathing through the left nostril only (over a period of years) will produce asthma. They also know that this so-called incurable disease can be easily eliminated by teaching the patient to breathe through the right nostril until the asthma is cured, and then to prevent it recurring by doing the alternate nostril breathing technique. The yogis also believe that diabetes is caused to a large extent by breathing mainly through the right nostril.


HOW TO : Nadi Sodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

1.Close the left nostril with your left thumb and inhale through the right nostril.

2.Immediately close the right nostril with your ring finger, and at the same time remove your thumb from the left nostril, and exhale through left nostril.

3.Inhale now through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with your left thumb and exhale through the right nostril. This is one round.


Start by doing three rounds, adding one at a time until you are doing as many as feels right for you. Allow your breath to remain quiet, calm, slow and peaceful – never force the breath. You may want to try a gentle pause between each breath (known as a retention) but never force your breath to be held. (No retaining the breath in pregnancy)


Alternate nostril breathing should not be practiced if you have a cold or if your nasal passages are blocked in any way. Forced breathing through the nose may lead to complications. In pranayama it is important to follow this rule: under no circumstances should anything be forced. If you use the nostrils for breath control they must be unobstructed.


If you want advice on other breathing exercises and their benefits or prefer to practice with the guidance of a qualified teacher please email for more info.


With thanks to and other yoga teaching resources