Updated: Apr 24, 2022
Nāḍī Śodhana Prāṇāyāma -- Also known as Alternate Nostril Breathing -- is a popular breathing technique in modern yoga in the West. There are actually several alternate nostril breathing techniques. They differ in small ways, such as starting with the left or the right nostril, starting with an inhale or exhale, etc.
Śodhana is pronounced Shod(h)na. Here is an excellent pronunciation resource.
Nāḍī = Energy Channel
Śodhana = Purifying or Cleansing
Prāṇā = Energy / Vital Force / Breath
Yāma = Control / Restraint / Observance
Many people find this exercise helps them relax and focus. It is excellent for calming anxiety or preparing for meditation. It is said to be beneficial for nausea. That said, some people with anxiety feel more anxious when they try to control their breathing. If this is your experience, there is nothing wrong with you! This might not be the right technique for you right now, or ever. Perhaps simply noticing your breath is the better for you.
The instructions for this breathing technique differ depending on the resource you use. I use the instructions from Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar. Before you try this technique, you might wish to wash your hands and blow your nose.
Ring finger gently blocks the left nostril just under nasal bone
Exhale through the right nostril completely (this is the prep)
Inhale slowly, steadily and deeply through the right nostril
Use thumb to block the right and exhale through the left
Inhale through the left
Exhale through the right
Do 8-10 Cycles
More Than Just Breathing
Nadi Sodhana is more than just a breathing exercise. According to yoga tradition, Nadi Sodhana balances 2 main energy channels in the body-mind-energy system. The balance helps us function as our whole selves. Eventually if the 2 main energy channels are so amazingly balanced, it will lead to kundalini rising up through the central energy channel and enlightenment will happen. Don't worry! You have to devote your whole life to Nadi Sodhana for this to happen. Simply practicing a couple times a day will not cause a massive kundalini rising! It is likely to simply help you be relaxed, focused, and more conscious so you can live your best life.
If you would like to learn more about the 3 energy channels, their qualities, kundalini and the meaning of enlightenment, here is a slideshow.
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