Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

The practice of nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breath) restores, equalizes and balances the flow of prana in the body. The word shodhana means to cleanse or purify, the word nadi refers to the network of pranic channels in the body. This pranayama helps to clean and rejuvenate your channels of vital energy, thus the name nadi sodhana (purification of nadis or channels). The English name, alternate nostril breath, is due to the fact that we alternate between the two nostrils when we do the breathing.


Contraindications: If you use the nostrils for breath control they must be unobstructed. Alternate nostril breathing should not be practiced if your nasal passages are blocked in any way. Forced breathing through the nose may lead to complications. At the slightest sign of discomfort, reduce the duration of inhalation/exhalation and, if necessary, discontinue the practice for the day. In any pranayama it is important to follow this rule: under no circumstances should anything be forced.

How to perform:
1. Sit comfortably with your back straight. Relax the whole body and close the eyes. Practice yogic breathing for some time.
2. Adopt nasika mudra (nose gesture): hold the fingers of the right hand in front of the face and rest the index and middle fingers gently on the eyebrow center. The thumb is positioned above the right nostril and the ring finger above the left with the little finger comfortably folded next to it. Left hand is rested on the knee in chin or jnana mudra.
3. Close the right nostril with right thumb and exhale completely through the left nostril. Then inhale deeply through the same left nostril.
4. Close the left nostril with your ring finger; release the pressure of the thumb on the right nostril. Exhale slowly and completely through the right nostril.
5. Inhale deeply through the right nostril. Then close the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril. This is one round.
Continue the same way and count your rounds, when your mind wanders, bring it back to concentration on the count. Start with a few rounds and gradually extend your practice in time. All the time during practice, keep your eyes closed and focused between your eyebrows (shambhavi mudra). Make sure that your right shoulder remains relaxed. Do not force the breath in any way and use yogic breath: don't suck the air in or push it out, breath should remain smooth and comfortable.

Benefits: Alternate nostril breathing produces optimum function to both sides of the brain: that is optimum creativity and optimum logical verbal activity. It encourages the mind to higher levels of discrimination, concentration and thoughts. It also helps to create a more balanced physical and mental state of body-mind structure, since both halves of the brain are functioning properly. It decreases hunger, brings balance between anabolic and catabolic processes, improves circulation and also gives more energy and oxygen to the physical body. This is the best technique to calm the mind and the nervous system. It can restore mental calm in just a few minutes and eventually moves you from slavery to your emotions towards mastery over them. Alternate nostril breathing clears the pranic blockages and balances ida and pingala nadis, causing sushumna nadi to flow, which leads to deep states of meditation and spiritual awakening.

 

   
Medical science has proven something that was known by yogic sages thousands of years ago - most of the time we don't breathe equally with both nostrils as each side of the nose alternates through phases of congestion and decongestion. Scientists found that one nostril is much easier to breathe through than the other at any particular time and that this alternates about every one and three-quarter hours. It is known as the nasal cycle, and it is now a well-recognized physiological phenomenon.
Scientists also discovered that the nasal cycle corresponds with brain function and many physiological properties of the nose alternate with the nasal cycle. 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. 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.
The yogis also observed that a lot of disease was due to the nasal cycle being disturbed. They also knew that disease can be eliminated by teaching the patient to breathe properly. To prevent and correct different conditions, they developed the alternate nostril breathing technique which clears any blockage to air flow in the nostrils and re-establishes the natural nasal cycle. For example, prolonged breathing through the left nostril only (over a period of years) will produce asthma, therefore to cure it one needs to concentrate on breathing through the right nostril, and then to prevent it recurring one shall practice nadi shodhana.
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