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Nadi shodhana is a pranayama practice that literally translates to “channel cleansing.” This alternate nostril breath technique works with the three major nadis (or channels) of the subtle body to cleanse and balance your energy.
While the practice may seem simple and subtle, it is believed to create drastic changes in your subtle body's anatomy.
And although it isn’t possible to quantify and measure changes to our subtle anatomy, we can measure how this breath practice affects our physical anatomy and the effects are truly astonishing.
Curious about pranayama in general? Read Pranayama 101: Your Guide to Yogic Breathing (Plus 7 Common Breathwork Practices)
Nadi shodhana is often referred to as alternate nostril breath. It’s a straightforward pranayama practice that, as the name implies, alternates between nostrils on each breath.
This soothing pranayama practice helps to downregulate your nervous system, creating ease and calm throughout your whole body. It’s a quick and effective technique to use anytime that you need to find instant relaxation.
If you need more practices to downregulate your nervous system, check out What Is Restorative Yoga? Here’s Your In-Depth Guide to This Soothing Practice
According to yogic subtle anatomy, there are three major nadis in the body:
These three nadis are all intimately related and connected. When they are perfectly balanced, we live in a state of ease. When they are imbalanced, dis-ease is present.
Sushumna nadi, our central axis, runs from the base of the spine up the central column of the body to the crown of the head. Ida nadi and pingala nadi also run from the base of the spine but then intertwine with each other to wrap around sushumna in a double helix shape.
Nadi shodhana helps us to create balance in the subtle body.
Every place where all three nadis intersect creates a major chakra. Ida nadi terminates in the left nostril while pingala nadi terminates in the right nostril.
Need chakra balancing too? Practice this Chakra Awakening for Balance and Connection
Both ida and pingala represent different aspects of ourselves. Ida is our soft, lunar side. Pingala is our strong, solar side. Ideally, we want to find balance between the two so that we may be strong when necessary but also soft when necessary.
Nadi shodhana helps us to create balance in the subtle body by stimulating ida and pingala nadi separately, but equally. As we alternate nostrils with each breath, we work to create balance in these nadis since they each terminate in alternate nostrils.
Curious about subtle anatomy? Here's Your Guide to the 5 Koshas, What They Represent, and How to Transcend Them
Just like any pranayama practice, nadi shodhana emphasizes the breath. This simple shift of awareness to the breath helps to draw the nervous system into a parasympathetic dominance. This means that we lean more toward our “rest-and-digest” state.
Alternate nostril breath also equalizes the length of our inhales and our exhales, which also helps to downregulate the nervous system.
And, by paying close attention to our breath and alternating nostrils with each breath, we inevitably elongate our breathing pattern. Taking slower, longer, and deeper breaths also helps to draw us into a parasympathetic state—ultimately, moving us toward deeper and deeper relaxation.
This practice is as straightforward as it is soothing.
To begin, find a comfortable position so that your physical body can deeply relax as you bring your awareness to your breath. You may wish to sit in a chair, or perhaps you prefer to sit cross-legged on the floor or rest your pelvis on a pillow or bolster.
Find any comfortable position where you can relax the weight of your pelvis down and lengthen the crown of your head toward the sky to elongate your whole spinal column. This will allow energy to flow freely through this space.
If it feels comfortable, close your eyes. Soften the weight of your hips and shoulders toward the ground. Draw your awareness inside and slowly begin to deepen the rhythm of your breath.
Need more soothing breath practices? Try this Diaphragmatic Breath Practice for Instant Stress Relief
Lift your right hand and place it in front of your face. Gently rest your thumb over your right nostril and your ring finger over your left nostril.
Release your index and middle fingers to rest at your third eye center (the space between your eyebrows). Take a few normal, deep breaths here.
When you’re ready, press down into your thumb to close off your right nostril. Inhale deeply through your left nostril. Once you’ve drawn a full breath in, press into your ring finger to close off your left nostril.
Release your thumb and exhale deeply through your right nostril. Then, inhale deeply through your right nostril. Once you’ve drawn a full breath in, press into your thumb to close off your right nostril.
Release your ring finger and exhale deeply through your left nostril. Then, again, inhale deeply through your left nostril.
Continue to follow this pattern, alternating nostrils with each breath.
When you feel you’ve practiced enough rounds, finish with an exhale out of your left nostril to return back full circle from where you began.
Release your hand down and resume your natural breath. Pause for a moment to observe the effects of your practice. Relax into the balance and calm for as long as you’d like.
Practice more relaxing pranayama with this Breath Practice for Presence and Relaxation
This soothing breath practice can be a really powerful instrument in your toolkit for stress relief. Since it can be practiced anytime, anywhere, alternate nostril breath can help you to find balance and calm whenever you want or need.
Use nadi shodhana to balance from the inside out. Let it affect both your physical and subtle bodies to create lasting relaxation.
Dive into this simple pranayama practice with this FREE guided alternate nostril breath meditation with Leah Sugerman.
Join Leah Sugerman for her in-depth online course Pranayama: Control Your Breath to Calm Your Mind!