Your nose is directly linked to your brain and your nervous system. That is one reason why in yoga we focus so much on the breath. We use it as a tool to calm our minds and help create that mind-body-spirit connection. Focusing on the breath not only brings us right in to the present moment, it also directly affects our bodies and minds on a cellular level by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system. It helps calm the mind and relax the body. The parasympathetic nervous system is the opposite of our sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the fight-or-flight response. Even just taking deep belly breaths can start to change your brain chemistry, almost immediately.
There are so many different breathing exercises out there, many of which we practice in yoga. I want to share with you my absolute favorite breathing exercise. It’s called nadi-shodhana, also known as alternate nostril breathing. Of all the breathing techniques out there, I use this one the most. It’s calming, yet energizing, and lowers your heart rate. It clears and boosts your energy channels. It helps relieve anxiety and stress. It’s effective, you can do it anywhere, and it just plain works.
Air alternately enters the nose through the left and right nostrils about every 90 minutes or so. Each nostril, or nadi (energy channel) has a different connection to our bodies and minds. The left nostril is receptive and cooling. It’s influence affects the parasympathetic nervous system. It is connected to the right side of the brain, which is associated with feelings, emotions and creativity. The right nostril activates and warms. It intensifies activity of the mind and body, and it affects the sympathetic nervous system. It is connected to the left side of the brian, which is rational, analytical and logical. This simple exercise helps balances both sides of the brain.
I am going to walk you though this breathing exercise, step by step.
1. First you’ll want to pick a hand position to use. Try them both out and decide which one feels best for you. Which ever position you choose, it is traditionally practiced using your right hand.
First option: Bring your pointer and middle finger in to touch your palm, by the base of your thumb. Then when you bring your hand up to your face, you’ll use your ring finger to block the left nostril, and your thumb to block the right nostril
Second option: Bring your middle and pointer finger to your third eye, on your forehead, in the middle, just above your eyebrows. You will use your ring finger to block the left nostril, and your thumb to block your right nostril. This is my favorite way to practice this. There is something calming about placing your fingers on the middle of your forehead, slightly above your eyebrows.
2. Find a comfortable seat. You really can do this exercise anywhere, but when you are first learning, you might want to sit down and give yourself time to relax and concentrate. It takes awhile to get the hang out it. Before starting just take a second to check in with yourself. Notice how your breath feels. Notice how you feel mentally and physically. Don’t judge, just observe. Keep an open mind.
3. Now it’s time to breathe! First just start by closing your eyes. Let your hands rest on your lap. Bring your attention to your breath. Breathe in and out through your nose. Start to slow your inhales and exhales, breathing slowly and steadily. Make each inhale and exhale smooth and even. Maybe counting to five on the inhale and counting to five on the exhale.
4. Pick a hand position that feels right for you. Bring your right hand up, finding that position. Inhale and exhale. Then close your right nostril with your thumb and INHALE through your left nostril. Then close the left nostril with your ring finger and EXHALE through the right. Keeping your left nostril closed, inhale through the right. Close the right nostril and exhale out the left. This completes one cycle. To continue on, keep the right nostril closed and and inhale through the left, then close the left nostril, exhale and then inhale through the right, and so forth. Continue on with this cycle, keeping your inhales and exhales steady and smooth. Do this as long as feels good in your body.
5. Once you are finished, keep your eyes closed and continue to breathe slowly and steadily through both of your nostrils. After five or so breaths, slowly open your eyes.
I hope you find this breathing exercise as helping and effective as I do. You can do it anywhere, and it just plain works. Anytime you are feeling stressed, tired, overwhelmed, anxious, or whatever it might be – give this exercise a try.