Simple Balancing Breath
Just take a deep breath right now. Inhaling long through the nose and exhaling long through the nose. It’s the easiest thing to do really. There is an entire body of study that focuses on using the breath to help promote certain states of being. In yoga (which uses the language of Sanskrit), we call this “pranayama” which in English means, “breath control” or being aware of and using the breath to help promote health. Breath awareness is a main part of any yoga practice. On the deepest level, your breath is your very life force. You can go without food or water and survive, but you cannot go without the breath for very long.
I’m going to show you how to do a simple breathing exercise called “nadi shodhana.” You can also call it “alternate nostril breathing.” In a nutshell, you breathe through the right nostril side out and in, then switch and do the same out and in breath on the left side.
This practice is said to have a calming effect on the nervous system. It also is said to balance our nervous system. The inhale is connected to the sympathetic nervous system, the system that is in charge of mobilizing our “fight or flight” response. The exhale is connected to the parasympathetic nervous system which is in charge of our relaxation response. Often when we are stressed, we tend to shortchange the exhale. If anything, this breath can help you focus on extending the exhale and thus promote relaxation. We are also seeing emerging science that finds the body’s cortisol levels drop after practicing alternate nostril breathing.
Here’s how to try it
Sit in any comfortable position. You can sit cross legged on the floor, in a chair with your feet on the floor or any way you’d like. Let your spine lengthen and your body relax.
Using your right hand, place your right thumb on your right nostril. Take a deep breath through your left nostril. Lightly hold the breath and then close your left nostril with your right ring finger and exhale through the right nostril. With your left nostril still closed, inhale through the right side. Close the right nostril with your thumb and exhale through the left nostril. This breath leads with the exhale. Think exhale, inhale, switch sides.
Other things to note, let the shoulders relax, and let the left arm relax.
Try to exhale, inhale, switch for a minute or two. Then sit quietly for as long as you’d like.
The main benefits of this breath are said to be:
- Lowered heart rate
- Reduction of anxiety
- Clearing pathways of energy
Alternate nostril breath is known as a purifying breath, that the yogis believe can clear the subtle channels of the body so that your life force moves more freely.
Whatever you believe, take a minute or two to try it and notice how you feel.
– Kelley Colihan Robertson, E-RYT