Have you ever noticed how one nostril sometimes seems more open than the other as you breathe through your nose? This truly happens to everyone. Take a few breaths through your nose and notice which nostril seems more open right now and which seems more clogged. The difference may be very slight, but it should be present (if your nose is healthy and not affected by allergies or a cold). The ancient yogis believed that whichever nostril was active could affect your mood and your energy level, and they developed a technique to affect the flow of breath in the nostrils, thus influencing mood and energy. This may sound like New Agey hokum, and I don’t blame you if you think that. But this technique, alternate nostril breathing, can be done easily at home with nothing but your nose and one hand, only takes a few minutes, can’t hurt anything and could maybe do some good. I figure, why not, so if you’d like to learn more, read on!
According to yogic theory, prana, or life energy, travels through the body via channels called nadis. There are thousands of nadis carrying prana to all parts of the body, but the three most important nadis are called pingala, ida, and sushumna. These three energy channels all travel up the back to the head. Pingala nadi starts at the base of the spine, cross-crosses up the back, and emerges at the right nostril; ida nadi does the same and emerges at the left nostril. Sushumna nadi travels directly up the length of the spine and is engaged when both nostrils are equally open.
The ancient yogis observed that when the right nostril is active, the body feels more energetic, and when the left nostril is active, the body feels more lethargic. This is because either the pingala or ida nadi is more open, channeling prana in different ways. The goal is to balance the flow of breath in the nostrils and activate the sushumna nadi, which brings pure energy to the body, perfect for meditation. Alternate nostril breathing (also called nadi shodhanam) works to bring about this balance.
Sit up straight in a comfortable position. You’ll use your right hand to alternately open and close each nostril: thumb against the right nostril, third finger against the left nostril. (You can either curl up the first and second fingers or rest them on your forehead if that’s comfortable.)
Being by inhaling deeply through both nostrils. Close your right nostril with your thumb and slowly exhale through your left nostril. Inhale through the left nostril, then hold the breath a moment while you switch fingers, opening the right side and pressing the left nostril closed with the ring finger. Exhale slowly on the right side, then inhale on the right side. You’ve now completed one round of alternate nostril breathing: one exhale and one inhale on each side. Do at least six rounds total, preferably nine rounds.
As you do the exercise, pay attention to keeping the breath long and smooth, and try to keep thoughts focused on the breath. If one nostril feels a little clogged, don’t panic; just take a slow deep breath. You have plenty of air, and you can always stop if you need to.
After practicing alternate nostril breathing, don’t expect to feel anything special. Nothing’s going to happen right now. Any results will be too subtle to see right away. That’s why my assignment for this month is to practice this exercise every day, all month long: because this will give me an opportunity to see the breath at work for a longer period of time. I’ll keep you posted on what I experience as the month goes on!