Many patients who come to see me are suffering from a wide variety of auto-immune and psychiatric conditions, which are due in part to an inability to truly relax. A constant state of low level fear exacerbates their symptoms and erodes their sense of safety, leaving them feeling self critical and focused on what is wrong with themselves and the world. In these times of tremendous global transformation, we need effective tools to ride the wave of change.
Rather than taking frequently prescribed and habit forming benzodiazepines, which are associated with an increased risk of dementia to ease anxiety, there are many formal breathing practices from the ancient discipline of yoga that can have a profound power to shift your state. Instead of degrading your health, these breathing techniques enhance your vitality and support your immune status. Yogic breathing practices are called Pranayama. Prana refers to the universal life force energy, known in other traditions as Qi. Today I am going to tell you about one simple Pranayama technique that I find particularly powerful called alternate nostril breathing, or in Sanskrit, Nadi Shodhan Pranayama.
This practice, which I will describe below, involves alternating the inhalation and exhalation between the right and left nostrils, which results in a balancing of the two hemispheres of the brain. It is a practice that is simultaneously revitalizing and calming. The left nostril is associated with lunar energy, and is thought to be calming, cooling and soothing. The right nostril is associated with solar energy, and is thought to be energizing and warming. As the Sun is currently in the sign of Libra, the sign associated with balance, harmony and integration of opposites, it is a particularly fitting practice to focus upon at this time.
Alternate nostril breathing is also thought to have a cleansing effect upon our organism. Despite our best efforts, in our modern industrialized world where we are routinely exposed to chemicals, it is protective to practice techniques which are detoxifying. Scientific American reported on a study which showed 200 chemicals detected in the cord blood of newborn infants. This reality contributes to the compromise of our immune systems and vulnerability to disease.
Some people have trouble calming their minds enough to be able to be able to sit still to meditate. Alternate nostril breathing is a great preparation for meditation as it calms and refreshes the mind and creates a feeling of happiness.
The following instruction and YouTube video are from the Art of Living website. Try this practice for 40 days and see what you notice. If you keep a journal about your experience, you will be more likely to perceive the difference. Here you go:
- Sit comfortably with your spine erect and shoulders relaxed. Keep a gentle smile on your face.
- Place your left hand on the left knee, palms open to the sky or in Chin Mudra (thumb and index finger gently touching at the tips).
- Place the tip of the index finger and middle finger of the right hand in between the eyebrows, the ring finger and little finger on the left nostril, and the thumb on the right nostril. We will use the ring finger and little finger to open or close the left nostril and thumb for the right nostril.
- Press your thumb down on the right nostril and breathe out gently through the left nostril.
- Now breathe in from the left nostril and then press the left nostril gently with the ring finger and little finger. Removing the right thumb from the right nostril, breathe out from the right.
- Breathe in from the right nostril and exhale from the left. You have now completed one round of Nadi Shodhan pranayama. Continue inhaling and exhaling from alternate nostrils.
- Complete 9 such rounds by alternately breathing through both the nostrils. After every exhalation, remember to breathe in from the same nostril from which you exhaled. Keep your eyes closed throughout and continue taking long, deep, smooth breaths without any force or effort.