Science teaches that the brain has two hemispheres, and daily living depends on coordination between the sides of the body. Yoga theory posits that there are two energy channels, the ida and pingala nadis that spiral around the central channel, sushumna nadi.. All three channels intersect at each chakra; while the central channel connects us to Mother Earth and to the universe, the side channels help to balance the opposing energies of the body. Masculine and feminine, solar and lunar, sensation and perception Ė these qualities must be in balance for the central channel to function at optimal levels. Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, is one pranayama, or breathing technique, used by yogi/nis to bring the channels into equilibrium.
As with any pranayama technique, itís important to be cautious and to start out slowly. Optimally, all breathing exercises should be first practiced under the guidance of a trained and qualified teacher. Once the basics are learned, this technique can be practiced daily, preferably on an empty stomach.
To begin Nadi Shodhana, come to a comfortable seated position. Make sure that the body is steady and can remain motionless for a period of time; if sitting in Sukhasana or Easy Pose, it helps to use a cushion to raise the hips and lower the knees towards the floor. As an alternate, sit in Virasana, or Hero Pose, possibly using a block under the buttocks to relieve the intense stretch on the quadriceps. Once seated, bring both hands to the knees, palms open, and shut the eyes, taking a few even breaths.
Take a moment to simply observe the breathing and state of mind. Is the body agitated, energetic, finding it hard to sit still? Or is it quiet, lethargic, and sluggish? Try to observe without judgment; as the popular saying goes, it is what it is. Noting where the body is can help identify how the practice works on a particular body.
Bring the right hand up to the nose. Place the thumb next to the right nostril, the ring and pinkie fingers next to the other. Inhale. Use the appropriate fingers to close the left nostril, and exhale through the right one. Inhale, and then open the left nostril, using the thumb to close the right. Exhale and inhale. These movements make up one complete cycle of Nadi Shodhana.
Move through several breath cycles, focusing on lengthening the exhale. When finished, drop the hands and take several deep breaths, again making sure that the out breath is the longer of the two. Take another moment to again watch the body and note the effect of the practice.
There are of course times when one has a cold or allergies, and the nostrils are plugged up, making this practice difficult or impossible. In these moments, one can practice mentally, rehearsing the movements in oneís mind. While not necessarily giving the same benefits, this does help the body to relax and balance, and is an alternative technique that can be used when the full pranayama isnít possible.
Enjoy Nadi Shodhana, and notice how this, like other yogic practices, helps to bring the mind-body into focused calmness and quiet. The practice of yoga is meant to help one achieve a state of union between body, brain, and spirit, and continued practice is an important part of the yogic way of life. Namaste!