A Breathing Technique that Massages the Nervous System

Today, we’re happy to share a type of pranayama (Sanskrit for breath control practice) that can help balance your nervous system and nurture your overall sense of wellbeing.  It’s called nadi shodhana, or alternative nostril breathing.

What does nadi shodhana mean?

In yogic tradition, a nadi is an energy channel within the body that’s associated with the nervous system. The Sanskrit word Shodhana means purifying or cleansing.  Thus, nadi shodhna is a neutralizing breathing practice intended to purify the nervous system.  As the celebrated yoga teacher Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar says in Light on Yoga, “A little obstruction in a water pipe can cut off the supply completely.  A little obstruction in the nerves can cause great discomfort and paralyze a limb or organ.”  Nadi shodhana can help treat and prevent these blockages.

The benefits of this breathing technique are vast: The blood and brain receive a greater supply of oxygen, which helps expel toxins.  It reduces stress and anxiety by inducing tranquility and vitality.  The extra oxygen flow to the brain boosts concentration, making this an excellent technique to do during the workday (an ideal substitute for that third cup of coffee…).

Everyone can practice this breathing technique at anytime.

How to do so?

  1. Sit in a comfortable, upright position. This can be on the floor with the support of a blanket, pillow, or yoga block.  Or, sit in a chair with good posture.
  2. Take the right hand and turn it toward your face.  Fold the index finger and middle finger into the palm. This is called both nasagra and vishnu mudra.
  3. Gently close the right nostril with the thumb.  Take a smooth inhalation through the left nostril.
  4. Gently close the left nostril off with the ring finger and remove the thumb from the right nostril. Take a smooth exhalation out of the right nostril.
  5. Keeping the left nostril close, take a smooth breath through the right nostril.
  6. Close the right nostril off, open the left, and exhale through the left
  7. Continue alternative nostril breathing for just a few minutes or longer.
  8. After, release the right hand and breathe normally through both nostrils.

By Sophie Slater