The science of breath: Nadi Shodhana

When was the last time you really noticed your breath? It may have been when you were short of it while exercising, or when it slowed as you were falling asleep.

The breath is the link between our mind and our body; between ourselves and this world. It is the root of consciousness.

And yet, we hardly pay it any mind.

Conscious breathing, or pranayama, encompasses any number of breath control practices that are designed to narrow attentional focus to the breath, ultimately slowing it down and calming the mind.

Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, involves breathing through one nostril at a time in a specific pattern. “Nadi” and “shodhana” are sanskrit words that translate to “channel” and “purification”, respectively. Therefore, nadi shodhana is a breath control practice to regulate the flow of breath through your nostrils.

As is often the case, the science lags behind experiential evidence, but studies have already shown that nadi shodhana activates the parasympathetic nervous system and reduces both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in people with hypertension. It’s also been shown to improve hand-eye coordination and focused attention. Nadi Shodhana is beneficial for the lungs as well, increasing its capacity.

Breathing is more than just a means to stay alive; it’s a direct connection to our emotional state. If we can regulate our breath, then we can regulate our emotions. So, let’s give it a try.

The practice

  1. Find a comfortable seat and sit tall. Rest your hands on your knees (palms up or palms down) and close your eyes.

  2. Working with your right hand, place your right thumb against the right nostril and the ring (and maybe pinky) finger against the left nostril. Your pointer finger and middle finger will rest in the space between your eyebrows - your “third eye”.

  3. Begin by closing your left nostril.

  4. Inhale through your right nostril, then close your right nostril and open your left nostril. Exhale through your left nostril.

  5. Keep everything as is and inhale through your left nostril. Then close your left nostril and open your right nostril. Exhale through your right nostril.

  6. Repeat for several more cycles (Note: Steps 4 and 5 represent one cycle)

  7. Release your right hand, placing it in your lap.

  8. Breath naturally. Sit in the stillness. Notice how you feel.