There are more than 1,400 references in scientific journals detailing the positive effects of pranayama. Pranayama is the combination of two Sanskrit words: “Prana” meaning life force and “yama,” meaning the extension of the control of something. Pranayama therefore, means control of the lifeforce energy.
There are many different techniques for controlling the life force detailed in ancient yogic texts, and all of them advantageously affect your neurocognitive, psychophysiological respiratory, biochemical, and metabolic health.[i]
The many benefits of breathing in a controlled, conscious manner include:
- Altering your brain wave state to induce alpha waves rather than beta, the state we live in most of the day when we are problem-solving and fretting about life.
- Lowering blood pressure and reversing hypertensive markers
- Improves respiratory endurance
- Purifies the energy channels of the body
- Reduces anxiety and stress
- Invigorates a tired mind
- Balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain
- Soothes the nervous system
- May induce quality sleep [ii] [iii] [iv]
Today we will focus on one pranayama technique that you can incorporate into your life:
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadhi Sodhana aka Anuloma Viloma) [v]
You can practice alternate nostril breathing with the pranayama mudra outlined in yogic texts or just use any comfortable thumb and finger to block your nasal passageways. Here are the easy steps to practice this powerful breathing exercise:
1. Sit with your spine erect and your legs crossed beneath you to form a strong base. Close your eyes and take your focus inside yourself.
2. Relax your hands facing up in your lap.
3. Allow the first two fingers of the right hand to rise to your brow and rest between the eyebrows as an anchor. You’ll use your thumb and ring finger to close off one nostril at a time.
4. Start by taking aa deep breath through both nostrils. Notice if you can feel the air moving more freely through one nostril or the other. Most people will find that the left or right nostril will feel more open than the other. This is fairly normal. You are aiming for both nostrils to be equally unimpaired, and this will happen naturally after you’ve practiced Nadhi Sodhana for a few months.
5. Before your next inhale, close the right nostril with the thumb. Inhale deeply through just the left nostril.
6. Pause and retain the breath for a moment.
7. Next, close the left nostril with the ring finger, and exhale through the right nostril.
8. Pause briefly at the release of all your air from this nostril.
9. Inhale through the right nostril.
10. Close that nostril off and exhale through the left nostril.
11. Repeat this cycle for up to fifteen minutes.
You will likely find that after about five minutes, a “reset” button will have taken place in your mind. If you were feeling stressed, anxious, or low-energy, you will likely feel refreshed, relaxed, and clear-headed.
You can practice this form of pranayama any time during the day when you feel depleted or in need of an extra mental or physical boost.
[i] Saoji, A. A., Raghavendra, B., & Manjunath, N. (2019). Effects of yogic breath regulation: A narrative review of scientific evidence. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 10(1), 50-58. doi:10.1016/j.jaim.2017.07.008
[ii] Kamath, A., Urval, R. P., & Shenoy, A. K. (2017). Effect of Alternate Nostril Breathing Exercise on Experimentally Induced Anxiety in Healthy Volunteers Using the Simulated Public Speaking Model: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. BioMed Research International, 2017, 1-7. doi:10.1155/2017/2450670
[iii] Ozturk, D., Araz, O., Ucar, E. Y., & Akgun, M. (2018). The effect of unilateral forced nostril breathing on sleep in healthy right-handed men: a preliminary report. Sleep and Breathing, 22(3), 769-772. doi:10.1007/s11325-018-1648-0
[iv] Sinha, A. N. (2013). Assessment of the Effects of Pranayama/Alternate Nostril Breathing on the Parasympathetic Nervous System in Young Adults. JOURNAL OF CLINICAL AND DIAGNOSTIC RESEARCH. doi:10.7860/jcdr/2013/4750.2948
[v] The Power of Breathing: 4 Pranayama Techniques Worth Practicing. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.onemedical.com/blog/live-well/breathing-pranayama-techniques