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Alternate Nostril Breathing: A 5-Minute Meditation to Help Balance the Mind

Alternate Nostril Breathing Meditation for Wellbeing


The yoga technique of Alternate Nostril Breathing has a long history of bringing relaxation, balance, and a settled state of mind to those who practice it. Its Sanskrit term is Nadi Shodhana, with nadi meaning "channel" and shodhana meaning "purification."

Though the practice of breath control has been passed down in the South Asian subcontinent for millennia, it’s only been in the past century that science has been able to catch up and explain just why this simple act has such profound benefits for our wellbeing. So, what exactly is happening in our bodies when we control, retain, and bring awareness to the breath? 

In this article, we’ll talk a little bit about the relationship between breath control techniques and the workings of our nervous system. We’ll also guide you through how to practice Alternate Nostril Breathing and help restore balance to the mind, body, and spirit.

Stress and Our Nervous System 

Our autonomic nervous system is made up of three main components: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), and the enteric nervous system (ENS). For this topic, we’ll only be focusing on the SNS and the PSNS.

The SNS stimulates our body’s fight or flight response. You may already know this response well. It’s an acute stress response that jolts us into a state of hyperarousal and secretes stress hormones throughout our bodies. When we need it, the fight or flight response is extremely useful to our survival. But problems can arise when our bodies don’t know how to feel relaxed again. 

This is where the PSNS comes in. It controls the body’s unconscious actions, like breathing. It’s also responsible for the rest and digest response that generally follows the fight or flight response. 

Yet sometimes, through chronic stress and anxiety, we can subconsciously find ourselves always living in fight or flight mode. This makes it hard to return to a state of balance, both mentally and physiologically. 

The Benefits of Alternate Nostril Breathing

When we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, we communicate to our bodies that it’s safe to rest and digest.

One proven way to activate the PSNS is by practicing breath control techniques, like Alternate Nostril Breathing.

Alternate Nostril Breathing helps restore calm. It lowers the heart rate and improves lung function. Even a short practice brings awareness to how the breath travels energetically throughout the body. We can start to notice how differently the left and right sides of our bodies feel.

How to Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing

If you have a little time to carve out of your day, you have all you need!

To wind down, you can do a short 5-minute Alternate Nostril Breathing practice to start feeling its positive effects. Here’s how:

  1. Find a comfortable position, sitting or lying down. 
  2. Bring your right hand to your face and bring your index and middle fingers to the space in between the eyebrows. Keep your left hand resting comfortably on your lap.
  3. Exhale completely. Use your right thumb to close the right nostril. 
  4. Inhale deeply through the left nostril.
  5. Retain the breath for four counts. Release the right thumb and close the left nostril with your ring finger.
  6. Exhale through the right nostril. Pause briefly at the bottom of your breath.
  7. Inhale through the right nostril.
  8. Retain the breath again, for four counts. Release the right ring finger and close the right nostril with your thumb.
  9. Exhale through the left nostril. Pause once more. 
  10.  This is one cycle – continue the practice as long as you'd like. Allow your mind to focus on the way the breath travels in your body. Notice how you feel.

We hope that you find technique helpful for centering the mind and body.


Disclaimer: The contents displayed within this journal (text, graphics, other material) are for informational purposes only, and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice.




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