by Chitra Chandrasiri

Yogic breathing, “ Pranayama” is aimed at increasing vital energy in the body and mind. In Sanskrit, “Prana” means vital energy and “Ayama” means control. With regular pranayama practice you can train yourself to breathe more slowly and deeply reducing your breath rate from an average of about 15- 18 breaths a minute to 4-8 breaths a minute. Reduced breathing rate leads to slowing down the heart rate, lowering the blood pressure, relaxing the body and calming the nerves.

There are many benefits of pranayama which can work wonders in improving the overall health and vitality of the body. As a result of deep breathing, all body organs get more oxygen, toxins are removed from body and the immune system is strengthened. Consequently, onset of various diseases is minimized or even prevented.

Practicing pranayama breathing techniques help you to get rid of negative emotions like depression, anger, arrogance and greed. It also helps you become more aware of your breath. When you concentrate on your breath, your mind becomes relaxed providing a peaceful state of mind for meditation.

Therefore, benefits of pranayama are physical, emotional as well as spiritual.

Throughout the day, we predominately breathe through one nostril or the other. In a healthy person the breath will alternate between nostrils about every two hours. When the breath continues to flow in through one nostril for more than two hours, as does with most people, it has an adverse effect on health.

Thousands of years ago, yogis observed that prolonged breathing only through the left nostril over a period of long time caused asthma. They also knew that this disease can be treated by teaching the patient to breathe through the right nostril until the asthma is cured, and then it was possible to prevent asthma recurring by doing the alternate nostril breathing technique.

Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) clears any blockage to air flow in the nostrils and reestablishes the natural nasal cycle. It has a long history in Ayurvedic medicine and yoga where it’s thought to harmonize the two hemispheres of the brain, resulting in balance in physical, mental and emotional well-being. Recent studies have confirmed that Alternate Nostril Breathing directly affects the autonomic nervous system, which governs your digestion, pulse rate and blood pressure. According to a 2008 study by Nepal Medical College researchers, the cardio-respiratory functions of young adults who practiced Alternate Nostril Breathing for 15 minutes each morning improved significantly after four weeks.

Left Nostril Breathing: Relax Activates the Ida Nerve Ending in the left nostril, which relates to calmness and relaxation. Left nostril breathing is associated with the moon energy, which is changeable, feminine and cool. Breathing through the left nostril for five minutes can calm you and lower your blood pressure.

Right Nostril Breathing: Energize Activates the Pingala Nerve Ending in the right nostril, which relates to alertness and activity. Right nostril breathing is associated with the sun energy, which is constant, masculine and hot. Breathing through the right nostril for five minutes can energize you and raise your blood pressure.

Alternative Nostril Breathing: Balance

Creates a relaxed and harmonious feeling as it balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain. It is known as Nadi Shodhana (Nadi = subtle energy channels, Shodhana = cleansing) as it helps to clear out blocked energy channels in the body and release tension and fatigue.

Here’s how to do it.

Left Nostril Breathing: Relax
Sit in Easy Pose or in a comfortable chair. Close your right nostril with your right thumb, your other fingers are stretched straight up as antennas. Your left hand is in Gyan Mudra (thumb pressing the index finger) on your left knee. Close your eyes and focus on your eye brow center. Paying attention to your breathing, begin to breathe long and deep only through your left nostril. Continue for three minutes.

Right Nostril Breathing: Energize 

Sit in Easy Pose or in a comfortable chair. Close the left nostril with the left thumb, the other fingers are stretched straight up as antennas. The right hand is in Gyan Mudra on your right knee. Close your eyes and concentrate at your eyebrow center. Paying attention to your breathing, begin to breathe long and deep only through your right nostril only. Continue for three minutes.

Alternative Nostril Breathing: Balance

Sit in Easy Pose or in a comfortable chair. Your left hand is in Gyan Mudra on your left knee. Close your eyes and focus at your eyebrow center. Breathe relaxed, deep, and full, as you practice the following sequence, for 3 minutes.

  • Inhale through the left nostril (Close your right nostril with your right thumb)
  • Exhale through your right nostril (Close your left nostril with your right index or ring finger)
  • Inhale through your right nostril (Close your left nostril with your right index or ring finger)
  • Exhale through your left nostril (Close your right nostril with your thumb)

While it is important to practice advance Pranayama techniques under the supervision of a trained yoga teacher, you can safely practice these techniques on your own if you follow the guidelines properly. Regular yoga and pranayama practice has lot of health benefits but it is not a substitute for proper medical care. In the case of specific medical conditions, practice pranayama after consulting a doctor.

Do not practice pranayama if you have blocked nose, suffering from fever or any infection. Do not force breathing; keep the air flowing naturally and gently. Always breathe through the nose not the through mouth. Place the fingers very lightly on the nose; there is no need to apply pressure. It is more beneficial to practice pranayama on empty stomach.