Pause for a moment and notice your breath. At first it seems like the air is flowing out of both nostrils simultaneously, but after some time you may begin to notice that one nostril dominates the flow of breath and also that this nostril changes. It may be left dominant, right dominant or both nostrils.
The flow of breath through the left nostril has a completely different physiological and psychological effect compared to the flow of breath through the right nostril. Balancing the breath in the nostrils helps to maintain our health. There’s even a type of yoga dedicated just to this! (Swara Yoga is the science of breath, prana (our life force), its rhythms, movements and patterns).
Our right nostril relates to the sun’s energy (flow is hot) and our left nostril relates to the moon’s energy (flow is cool). Right nostril also relates to the left brain (masculine, logical, energetic, physical aspects of ourselves) whereas the left nostril relates to the right brain (feminine, creative, introspective, emotional aspects of ourselves). Hatha yoga works to balance these two.
One of the most immediate ways to bring some more balance into your day is through nadi shodhana (commonly known as alternate nostril breathing). This practice balances the left and right brain hemispheres, nervous system and the hormonal system. Relieving anxiety and insomnia, it calms and regulates energy on both the physical and subtle levels. Alternate nostril breathing is also excellent to do before bed, helping let go of anything you’re holding onto from the day, or if you find yourself waking during the night.
I practice nadi shodhana daily and teach it almost every week, have done for years. It’s an easy and safe breathing technique which anyone can practice. There are so many levels to this practice however below is a good place to start. As with any breathing practice, please keep the breath comfortable and do not hold the breath unless under the guidance of a teacher:
1: Sit comfortably with your head, neck, and spine in alignment. Breathe slowly, evenly, and diaphragmatically (abdominal breathing) through both nostrils for 3 to 5 minutes.
2: Close your right nostril with your right thumb, and inhale normally through the left nostril, close the left nostril with the ring finger of the right hand, remove the thumb and exhale through the right nostril.
3: Naturally inhale through the right nostril. Close your right nostril with your right thumb, and exhale normally through the left nostril
4: Repeat steps 2–4 for five more minutes, switching nostrils after each inhalation. Avoid pausing between inhalations and exhalations, and keep your breathing steady and continuous.
** TIP: By breathing in/out of just the left nostril you will activate or ‘switch on’ the right brain hemisphere (helpful when relaxing, getting ready to meditate or being creative). Breathing in/out of just the right nostril will activate the left brain hemisphere (helpful when exercising, studying or working to a deadline). Try it and see for yourself!