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How Alternate Nostril Breathing can Improve Your Health and Wellbeing

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing is a yogic pranayama practice. I feel that it is one of the most important practices that I do and is also one of my favourites. I do this practice most days because it helps me feel calm and relaxed, clearer in my mind, more balanced emotionally and grounded. It’s also a really simple practice that is easily done almost anywhere and doesn’t need to take long to feel a benefit.

You may not have heard the word pranayama before but if you have been to a yoga class you will have most likely done some. Pranayama practices are breathing techniques that are used to move the prana (life force energy) around the body. There are many different pranayama practices, they range from being as simple as focusing on your breath and controlling the length of your inhale and exhale to practices that are more complicated, and many in between.

Nadis are the subtle channels or energy streams in our bodies through which prana flows. These channels can become blocked due to a number of reasons such as physical injury, toxicity, unhealthy lifestyle or trauma. When this happens it can have an effect on our physical bodies leading to issues such as illness, low functioning immune system and poor mental health. Shodhana means cleaning or purification and in the practice of Nadi Shodhana we are clearing out these energy channels so that we can shift these blockages which leads to healthier bodies and happier minds.

What the Research Says

The evidence for the benefits of alternate nostril breathing is not just anecdotal, there are a number of research studies that have looked at this practice and it’s benefits. A 2014 study of people with hypertension showed significant improvements in blood pressure in those patients who practiced pranayama, including Nadi Shodhana, regularly for 6 weeks[1]. Studies that have explored the effects of pranayama, including Nadi Shodhana, on patients with breast cancer have shown reduction of fatigue, improved sleep and quality of life, reduction in anxiety and increased levels of beneficial antioxidants in those who regularly practice pranayama when compared to a control group[2][3][4]. A programme of pranayama including Nadi Shodhana was shown to enhance respiratory endurance and performance in competitive swimmers in a 2017 study[5]. And another study showed this practice improved performance and reduced anxiety in foreign language students taking exams at a Turkish university[6]. It is clear that the are a great number of potential benefits to taking some time each day for some pranayama such as Nadi Shodhana.

How to do Nadi Shodhana

If you would like to give Nadi Shodhana a go, find somewhere you can sit quietly and follow the simple steps below. I always recommend taking a couple of moments before and after doing any yoga practice so that you can check in with how you are feeling when you start and then how you feel when you finish. This means you will really notice any effects and be able to recognise any changes in yourself.

  • Sit comfortably with your spine straight and your eyes closed.

  • Raise your right hand to your face. Close your right nostril with your thumb and rest you index finger and middle finger on the bridge of your nose. If you are feels tired you can support it by holding your elbow in your left hand.

  • Breathe in slowly and fully through your left nostril.

  • At the top of your inhale, close your left nostril with your ring finger and pause briefly.

  • Release your thumb and exhale through your right nostril.

  • At the bottom of your exhale, pause and then inhale through your right nostril.

  • At the top of your inhale, close your right nostril with your thumb and pause briefly.

  • Release your ring finger and exhale through your left nostril.

  • This completes one round of Nadi Shodhana. Repeat for several rounds, alternating nostrils with each inhale and exhale.

If you have a blocked nose or congestion and find it difficult to breathe through your nose you can still do this practice by visualising the movement of your breath in and out through the different sides of your body. You may visualise breathing in and down the left side of your body and then up and out through the right side. You the feel yourself breathing in and down through the right side of your body and up and out through the left. Alternatively you may visualise drawing your breathing in through your left arm to the centre of your brow and then out through the right arm. Then in through your right arm to your brow and out through your left arm.

It is important to note that although this practice can help reduce anxiety overall it may not be a good practice for you if you are currently feeling anxious and your breathing is fast or strained. Often focusing on your breath can trigger anxiety especially if you are not used to the practice. If this is you and you would like further help or advice on how to use yoga to manage your anxiety then do get in touch. As a yoga therapist I can help to guide you to use yoga as a means of support so you can feel stronger and calmer. Equally if you would like further advice or help with nadi shodhana or any other yogic practices you are interested in then please do reach out. I am available for face to face sessions in Norwich and Norfolk as well as online.

iGoyal, R., Lata, H., Walia, L., & Narula, M. K. (2014). Effect of pranayama on rate pressure product in mild hypertensives. International journal of applied & basic medical research, 4(2), 67–71.

iiChakrabarty J, Vidyasagar MS, Fernandes D, Bhat V, Nagalakshmi, Joisa G, et al. Effectiveness of pranayama on the levels of serum protein thiols and glutathione in breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy: A randomized controlled trial. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2013;57:225–32. [Google Scholar]

iiiDhruva, A., Miaskowski, C., Abrams, D., Acree, M., Cooper, B., Goodman, S., & Hecht, F. M. (2012). Yoga breathing for cancer chemotherapy-associated symptoms and quality of life: results of a pilot randomized controlled trial. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 18(5), 473–479.

ivChakrabarty J, Vidyasagar M, Fernandes D, Joisa G, Varghese P, Mayya S. Effectiveness of pranayama on cancer-related fatigue in breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy: A randomized controlled trial. Int J Yoga. 2015;8:47–53. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

vHakked, C. S., Balakrishnan, R., & Krishnamurthy, M. N. (2017). Yogic breathing practices improve lung functions of competitive young swimmers. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 8(2), 99–104.

viTasan, M., Mede, E., & Sadeghi, K. (2021). The Effect of Pranayamic Breathing as a Positive Psychology Exercise on Foreign Language Learning Anxiety and Test Anxiety Among Language Learners at Tertiary Level. Frontiers in psychology, 12, 742060.


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