Nadi Shodhana: Alternate Nostril Breathing for Balancing the Body and Mind

nadi shodhanaIn both Yoga and Ayurveda, Nadi Shodhana is quite possibly the most revered of all forms of Pranayama (breathing practices).  “Nadi” is a term to denote the subtle energetic channels of the body while “Shodhana” relates to a cleansing process.  Hence this most sattvic (balanced, peaceful) of Pranayama techniques is intended to purify our energetic channels, physical channels, our nervous system and the subtle body.

“Consistently and frequently following this technique through alternate nostrils, one gets his nadis purified in three months.  When the nadis are purified, the external signs surely appear, such as slimness of the body and luster.”  Hathapradipika Ch4 Vs14-15

According to the ancient yogic texts, we have a total of 72,000 nadis or channels that circulate throughout our body.  When these channels are open and unobstructed, our health is robust and our mind and body are strong.  However, when these channels become blocked or constricted due to toxins, stress and doshic imbalance, our health begins to diminish, pain (dukha) arises, and our mind and body weaken. 

Nadi Shodhana is tridosic in nature, meaning it can be used by every body-type (i.e. Vata, Pitta, Kapha), and should be practiced on a daily basis.  According to the Gheranda Samhita this technique is in fact preliminary to all other Pranayama techniques, as it will purify all the subtle energetic channels (nadi) in the body and prepare the aspirant for the other mentioned Pranayama. 

Just as with Yoga, Pranayama is best practiced in the early morning around sunrise, on an empty stomach.  Ideally the bowels have been evacuated, and the mouth and body clean.  In certain cases Nadi Shodhana may need to be practiced multiple times each day, especially when dealing with Vata imbalances such as anxiety, fear, restless mind, worry and sleep disorders.  A knowledgable teacher or practitioner can guide you on the proper times of practice, number of rounds, etc; and is highly recommended in the beginning stages of learning this technique.      

Indications for Nadi Shodhana:
  • Vata imbalance
  • Low Prana (lifeforce)
  • Nervous System disorders
  • Emotional imbalance including anxiety, depression, anger and irritation
  • Dull, foggy mind
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • High stress
  • Mental fatigue and exhaustion
  • Restless mind, racing thoughts
  • Chronic headaches and migraines
  • Sleep disorder
  • Poor circulation, low oxygen
  • Asthma, shortness of breath
  • Tension and constriction in the body and/or mind
Contraindications of Nadi Shodhana:
  • Cold, fever, flu
  • Blocked sinuses
  • Full stomach
  • During menstruation
  • One with high Vata, heart trouble, high anxiety or nervousness should not practice Nadi Shodhana with retentions (without retention is alright)
  • Retention that is indicated should only be practiced once this pranayama has been performed daily for at least 3 months; practicing retention without proper instruction and preparation may cause imbalance of the mind, nervous system and doshas
Health Benefits of Nadi Shodhana:
  • Calms, purifies and strengthens the entire nervous system
  • Brings balance to the mind and emotions
  • Removes obstruction and constriction in the channels
  • Balances and harmonizes the right and left channels of the body (pingala and ida nadi, respectively)
  • Balances the right and left sides of the brain
  • Balances the yin and yang energies of the body
  • Rejuvenates the bodily tissues as fresh oxygen enters each cell
  • Rejuvenates the mind; increases intellect, memory and concentration
  • Sharpens the five senses
  • Reduces stress and anxiety 
  • Balances blood pressure
  • Pacifies all doshic imbalance (Vata, Pitta, Kapha)
  • Stimulates the digestive fire (agni) and metabolism
nadi shodhana

Use the ring and pinky fingers to close the left nostril.

nadi shodhana

Use the thumb to close the right nostril.

Detailed Instructions:

  1. Begin in padmasana, svastikasana or a comfortable seated position.  Keep the spine erect and upright so it is straight and perpendicular to the floor.  There is a slight tucking under of the lower spine (mulabandha) that is utilized for the entire practice.  There also is a slight tuck in the chin.

  2. Place the left hand on top of the left knee and curl the left index finger into a small circle while keeping the remaining fingers straight and relaxed.  This hand will remain here for the entirety of this Pranayama practice.

  3. The right hand will be placed into the Vishnu Mudra as shown below.  To come into this mudra, roll the index and middle finger into the palm of the hand, keeping the remaining fingers neutral.

    vishnu mudra

    Vishnu Mudra

     

  4. Raise the right hand to reach the nose and using the pinky and ring finger, close the left nostril.  Inhale through the right nostril, slowly and deeply.  To begin, internally count slowly to five (if this is too much begin with a 3 or 4 count) while inhaling.  Pause for a moment letting the mind rest.  **This natural pause should be only for a second if you are not practicing retentions.

  5. Remove the two fingers from the left nostril and then begin to place the thumb against the right  nostril.  Exhale through the left nostril while slowly counting to five.  Take a slight pause here.

  6. Keeping the finger position the same, inhale through the left nostril on a five count.  Slight pause.

  7. Closing the left nostril with the two little fingers, exhale through the right side with a five count. This completes one full round.

  8. Repeat up to 3-10 rounds for a beginning practice.  When appropriate the count of the inhale and exhale can lengthen as long as there is no added stress or tension that results (this will increase Vata and create imbalance).

  9. End the practice by taking some deep breaths through both nostrils with the eyes closed.  Sit here for several minutes before getting up to end the practice.  Alternatively, one can add a meditation in after this breath work if desired.  Avoid eating for at least 30 minutes after any Yoga or Pranayama practice.
A few details to note: 

On the pause the right hand stays in Vishnu Mudra and can rest on the upper portion of the nose, between the eyes.  Also to note, on both of the pauses following the inhale and the exhale, a chin lock (jalabandha) should be held.  Mulabandha is held during the entire practice.  Remember to take the breath down into the belly and avoid shallow chest breathing.   

Short Instructions:
  1. Inhale right, slight pause
  2. Exhale left, slight pause
  3. Inhale left, slight pause
  4. Exhale right, slight pause
  5. Repeat #1-4, three to ten times
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