I first learned about alternate-nostril breathing, or Nadi Shodhan pranayama, in an ayurvedic massage class years ago. My teacher used it as a way to relax and prepare us for learning the techniques in a specific massage routine called garshana-abhyanga. I found it to be a very simple and effective method for calming and centering my mind and my breath, and the result was that I was much more focused and relaxed. Since that time, various yoga teachers have led me through a few cycles of alternate-nostril breathing during classes, and I find that practicing this on my own helps greatly when I need to clear the cobwebs from my head, relax, bring more oxygen to the blood to recover from a headache or de-stress.
Medical science tells us that we don’t breathe evenly through both nostrils – that at any given time, one nostril is able to take in more air than the other, and throughout the day this will shift from one side to the other in a process called the nasal cycle. Our nostrils also correlate to the left and right hemispheres of the brain, so this means that during the nasal cycle, one hemisphere is getting more oxygen than the other. By practicing alternate-nostril breathing, one is able to balance both hemispheres of the brain, which calms the mind and the nervous system. This can result in reduced anxiety, relief from headache, reduction of stress and sleeplessness, lowering of blood pressure, and increased respiratory endurance.
The technique is simple, and can be practiced anytime, anywhere. Five minutes is all you need. With a little practice, you may find this to be a very useful tool in your self-care toolbox.