Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
Nadi Shodhana, also known as Alternate Nostril Breathing, is a powerful breathing practice with wide reaching benefits. Nadi is a Sanskrit word meaning “channel” or “flow” and shodhana means “purification.” Therefore, nadi shodhana is primarily aimed at clearing and purifying the subtle channels of the mind-body organism, while balancing its masculine and feminine aspects. It is pacifying for all three doshas and is a suitable practice for most anyone. If you do not know your dosha, please take a moment to take our free Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz.
- Infuses the body with oxygen
- Clears and releases toxins
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Calms and rejuvenates the nervous system
- Helps to balance hormones
- Supports clear and balanced respiratory channels
- Helps to alleviate respiratory allergies that cause hay fever, sneezing, or wheezing
- Balances solar and lunar, masculine and feminine energies
- Fosters mental clarity and an alert mind
- Enhances the ability to concentrate
- Brings balance to the left and right hemispheres of the brain
How to Practice
Nadi shodhana (as with most pranayamas) is best practiced on an empty stomach. The early morning is an ideal time. Choose a comfortable sitting position—either cross-legged on the floor (with a cushion or blanket to support the spine), or in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Allow the spine to lengthen so that the back, neck, and head are erect throughout the practice. Gently close the eyes.
Begin by taking a full, deep inhalation followed by a slow, gentle exhalation. In this way, practice several rounds of Full Yogic Breath to help awaken the prana maya kosha (the energetic body) and to clear any obstructions that might otherwise inhibit the practice of pranayama. When the breath feels full, natural, relaxed, and open, you may begin the practice of nadi shodhana.
Bring the right hand into Vishnu mudra by folding the tips of the index and middle fingers inward until they touch the palm at the base of the right thumb. Align the length of the ring and pinky fingers on the right hand. During this practice, you will alternately use the right thumb to close the right nostril and the right ring and pinky fingers (together) to close the left nostril.
First, use the right thumb to close the right nostril. Exhale gently, but fully, through the left nostril. Keeping the right nostril closed, inhale through the left nostril and deep into the belly. As you inhale, allow the breath to travel upward along the left side of the spine—from the pelvic floor, up through the organs of reproduction and elimination, through the left kidney, the spleen, the left lung, the heart, and up through the left side of the throat, face, and head. Pause briefly at the crown of the head.
Next, use the ring and pinky fingers of the right hand to gently close the left nostril and simultaneously release the right nostril. Exhale through the right nostril, surrendering the breath down the right side of the body—from the right side of the head, face, and throat, down the right side of the spine through the heart, the right lung, the liver, the right kidney, the organs of reproduction and elimination, and down to the pelvic floor. Pause gently at the bottom of the exhalation.
Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale once again through the right nostril, drawing the breath back up from the pelvic floor, along the right side of the spine—up through the organs of reproduction and elimination, the right kidney, the liver, the right lung, the heart, and up through the right side of the throat, face, and head, pausing briefly at the crown of the head.
Then again, use the right thumb to close the right nostril as you release the left nostril. Exhale through the left nostril, surrendering the breath back down the left side of the body, from the left side of the head, face, and throat, down the left side of the spine—through the heart, the left lung, the spleen, the left kidney, the organs of reproduction and elimination, and once again, down to the pelvic floor. Pause gently at the bottom of the exhalation.
This completes one round of nadi shodhana. The same pattern continues for each additional round: inhale through the left nostril, exhale through the right nostril, inhale through the right nostril, exhale through the left nostril. Repeat this alternating pattern for several more rounds, focusing your awareness on the pathway of the breath—up one side of the body (from the pelvic floor to the crown of the head), and back down the other side of the body (from the crown of the head to the pelvic floor). It is important that the breath remain slow, gentle, fluid, and relaxed throughout the practice.
Nadi shodhana can be immensely rewarding, even when practiced for as little as five minutes on a regular basis, but practicing daily for ten to fifteen minutes offers even deeper benefits.
When you are ready to close your practice, complete your final round of nadi shodhana with an exhalation through the left nostril. Relax your right hand and place it comfortably in your lap as you take several Full Yogic Breaths. Then, allow your breath to return to normal. As you do so, notice your state of mind. How are you feeling? What sensations are present in your body? Just quietly observe the effects of the practice for a few moments. Then, gently open your eyes, continuing to focus some of your awareness within. When you feel ready, slowly get up and offer your full presence to the rest of your day as it unfolds.
There are many variations of nadi shodhana. Some more advanced techniques incorporate breath retention and specific duration ratios for the inhalation and exhalation. The above instructions are meant to provide a suitable introduction to nadi shodhana. Of course, it is always best to learn a new technique in person, from a qualified teacher.
If you find it tiring or distracting to physically close your nostrils with your fingers, Dr. Claudia Welch’s Prana CD includes a beautiful hands-free variation of nadi shodhana.