I stumbled upon “deliberate” alternate nostril breathing entirely by accident.
We kids played in a separate room while the adults did yoga. We stole peaks from around the wall. The instructor had them covering one nostril. Without knowing the rationale, we copied. To mixed effect. Some of the kids became more hyper and aggressive, while others noticeably relaxed. As it turned out, the nostril we chose determined the effects that the breathing had on us.
Fast forward a decade and I re-discovered alternative nostril breathing (ANB). This time using it intentionally and to greater effect.
Later, Hillary Clinton rekindled interest in the ancient practice. She used alternative nostril breathing to overcome her stress and anxiety of losing the United States presidential election.
This article is the beginner’s guide to the benefits of alternative nostril breathing, and how to practice it properly.
Alternative Nostril Breathing Science
Alternative nostril breathing is a deeply spiritual and sacred practice originating thousands of years ago from the breath control branch of yoga called prānāyama. In Sanskrit it’s called nadi shodhana pranayama which translates to “subtle energy clearing”.
Common lifestyle factors obstruct proper Nadi energy flow:
- Too much stress
- Insufficient movement
- Toxin exposure
- Poor posture
- Inability to clear cellular waste products
- Inadequate sleep
- Dysharmony with nature
- Trauma (physcial, emotional, and mental)
- Intense exercise too soon after eating
- Incompatible diet
By focusing on each nostril individually, you’re able to rebalance them to optimal functioning. One best suited to your current activity.
Nostrils Correspond to Brain Side
Each nostril connects predominantly to the opposite side of the brain:
- Left nostril —> right side of the brain
- Right nostril —> left side of the brain
Targeting the left nostril increases relaxation, while the right is thought to increase energy.
Qualities of left and right directly oppose each other:
|Right Nostril||Left Nostril|
|Symbolized by the sun||Symbolized by the moon|
|Masculine energy||Feminine energy|
|Active senses: hands, feet, sex organs, speech||Cognitive senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing|
Emphasize one nostril to enhance specific activities:
- Left: creativity, art, ideas, introspection, rest, sleep
- Right: rationality & logic, fitness, willpower
Occasionally, the nostrils will flow completely evenly. This is the perfect state for meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. Contrary to popular belief, complete balance isn’t always ideal.
Benefits of Alternative Nostril Breathing
Depending on how you practice, alternate nostril breathing has a wide variety of benefits including:
- Sharpens focus and awareness
- Relaxes the body and mind
- Supports healthy lung and respiratory function
- Rebalances the left and right hemispheres of the brain
- Balances the nervous system
- Clears the body’s energetic channels
- Rejuvenates the nervous system
- Ideal state for meditation
- Removes toxins
- Increases maximum breath holding time
- Lessens stress
- Reduces anxiety
- Improves blood pressure after just one session
- Promotes ideal heart rate
- Increases vital capacity
- Improves neurocognition
- Boosts metabolism
- Improves respiratory endurance
Using nothing but one finger and timed breathing, you can prepare your body for each of the day’s activities. From relaxed, idea generating creativity, to optimized physical performance and rationality. Or an even balance.
How to Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing
The online guides I’ve seen overcomplicate ANB.
Before we get started, there are a few things to know:
- Perform on an empty stomach for best results
- Do not practice if sick or congested
This is how to practice alternate nostril breathing:
- Sit comfortably and cross your legs.
- Exhale completely and then use any finger on your dominant hand to close your right nostril.
- Inhale through your left nostril. Then close the left nostril with your fingers.
- Open the right nostril and exhale through this side.
- Inhale through the right nostril and then close this nostril.
- Open the left nostril and exhale through the left side.
Basically, cover the same nostril after inhaling, and exhale through the other side. Repeat for up to five minutes and finish with an exhale through the left nostril.
If you prefer a visual walkthrough, watch this video:
The Brain Upgrading Kundalini Yoga Breathing Practice
Alternate nostril breathing has a long lineage from ancient Vedic texts. As Western Medicine begins accepting the existence of energy practices, I expect to see more scientific validation.
Of the thousands of deliberate practices, alternate nostril has stood rigorous testing by millions over thousands of years.
Each nostril corresponds to one of the chief life forces.
- Left (yin): creativity
- Right (yang): logic
Unblock clogged energy, and understand when to stimulate each nostril for a little boost, any time, anywhere.