There are only two difficulties on the path of meditation. One is the ego and the second is the constantly chattering mind. Alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana pranayama) is considered to be essential in preparing the body and mind for meditation. The alternating of nostrils while breathing allows for purification of the nadis (ida and pingala primarily) so prana can flow freely through the body. The ability to direct the flow of prana is a fundamental outcome of the yoga practice. Without developing this ability, the benefits of yoga remain similar to any other form of physical or mental exercise.
Practicing this breathing exercise will not only prepare you for meditation, it will bring clarity, balance and calmness to the mind and emotions. It may also be referred to as sun and moon breath or heating and cooling breath because of the internal effects it has on the body and mental activity. For example, during the heating or sun (right nostril) cycle one may experience an increase in the body temperature and on the cooling or moon (left nostril) cycle the body cools and mental activity slows down.
Alternate nostril breathing should not be practiced if you have a cold or nasal congestion. It should also be practiced responsibly and not in excess. It is best to practice under the direction of a yoga instructor or more experienced practitioner. If you are hesitant to practice this breathing exercise on your own, search out a yoga studio that teaches meditation. If you plan to practice on your own, alternate nostril breathing should be done after you have become comfortable with the beginning breathing exercise.
Nadi shodhana pranayama: alternate nostril breathing exercise
Rule to remember: Always alternate nostrils when the lungs are filled after inhaling and never when the lungs are empty after the exhaling breath.
- In a comfortable seated position, place your hands in jnana mudra (index finger touching the thumb and other three fingers extended).
- Maintaining jnana mudra, use the middle finger of your right hand to close the right nostril. Breathe in completely with a deep inhale in the left nostril.
- With your lungs filled, hold the air just long enough to move your right hand (still in jnana mudra) to obstruct the left nostril.
- Exhale completely through the right nostril (do not hold the breath at the end of the exhale).
- Inhale completely through the right nostril (see rule to remember).
- With your lungs filled, hold the air just long enough to move your right hand (still in jnana mudra) to obstruct the right nostril.
- Continue this for 3-5 breaths on each nostril, comfortably, without exaggeration.
The alternate nostril breathing exercise can be practiced using breathing rhythms. The rhythm of 1-4-2 is best for this exercise. Meaning if you inhale in 2 seconds, hold for 8 seconds and exhale in 4 seconds (no retention of breath on the exhale). Enjoy this breathing exercise and its effects. Take the necessary precautions and perform this breathing exercise responsibly (sober, without congestion and within a consistent yoga practice). If you have any health issues, consult your doctor before performing any pranayama exercises.