5 Minutes to Balance.

   Last month I got this urge to start practicing more pranayama in the mornings.

    Since then I’ve incorporated a few extra minutes every day to sit and breathe with intention.

   It’s such a simple and powerful way to become more present, balanced and grounded.

   In particular, I’ve been practicing alternate nostril breathing. This is a very simple breath-control        exercise that is beneficial for all people because it is neither too stimulating nor too sedative but instead facilitates balance. It is calming for the mind, relieves stress and help you focus.

In yogic anatomy there are 3 major channels of energy, or nadis, that run the mid-line of the back. The central and most prolific is the sushumna nadi  – this is the major pathway for the ascent of Kundalini energy that rests at the base of the spine. Beginning on the left of this channel is the ida nadi, which correlates with lunar energy, femininity and the parasympathetic nervous system. Originating at the right of sushumna, lies the pingala nadi, which is connected to solar energy, masulinity and the sympathetic  nervous system.

The ida nadi ends at the left nostril. The pingala ends at the right nostril. When you are breathing dominantly through the left nostril, you will feel more relaxed, calm and sometimes sleepy. When the majority of your breathing is occurring in the right nostril you will feel more energized, animated and perhaps anxious or overly hyper-active.

By consciously balancing the breath equally through the left and right nostrils, you can directly balance the nervous system and the hemispheres of the brain. In addition, this pranayam practice can assist in balancing hormones, something I recently learned, much to my delight, from one of my favorite blogs, No More Dirty Looks.  Since I read this I’ve been extra inclined to practice this everyday because seriously every acupuncturist I have ever seen points out that my hormones are out of whack!

Alternate nostril breathing (sometimes called nadi shodhana…which is also the name of 2nd series, not to confuse you) can be practiced with retention (kumbhaka) or without it. Recently, I’ve been keeping it super simple and not doing a lot of retention.

I like to sit for a few deep breaths before I begin asana. The past few mornings I’ve done a little breath of fire for extra energy and agni-boosting. Three minutes of “ego-eradicator” does the trick!  After this I sit quietly and then prepare for alternate-nostril breathing. I like to use a timer so that I can keep my eyes closed and not be distracted by watching a clock. I find that just 5 to 7 minutes of alternate nostril breathing totally calms my mind, clears my sinuses and puts me in a much sweeter disposition than when I began.

Sometimes, instead, I do this pranayama at the end of my Ashtanga practice. My breath is so deep after all that asana so that I am able to do extra long slow counts. It feels heavenly.

I highly encourage you to try this simple practice and see how it makes you feel. You can modify the counts so that it is right for you – your level, your time, your breath capacity. As you become more comfortable you can practice fixed-ratio retentions. It’s very important you do not strain in pranayama, but instead carefully and smoothly control the breath while remaining calm and comfortable.

Here’s the simplest way to practice this balancing breath technique:

Sit comfortably with your left hand resting upon the knee, the fingers in gyan mudra (thumb and index finger touching).

The eyes are softly closed or just partially closed with a downwards drishti.

The right hand is making a mudra in which the index and ring fingers are held down into the palm by the base of the thumb. The thumb and ring fingers will be used to close off the nostrils.

Begin by taking a few deep breaths with both nostrils.

Then exhale all the breath out. Use the right thumb to cover the opening of the right nostril.

Deeply and slowly inhale just through the left nostril for a count of 5, 6, or 7 (determine the length for your needs and then stick to it).

At the top, pause momentarily and place the ring finger over the left nostril, then exhale out of the right nostril with control to the same count (5, 6 or 7).

Keep this position and inhale for the same count as before through the right nostril.
Pause, cover the right nostril, exhale for the same count through the left nostril.

Keep alternating with the same count.

After a few rounds, you can increase the count to 7, 8, 9 or 10 depending on your comfort level and breath capacity.

Some days this will vary. Currently I normally start with 6, then do a few rounds of 8 and then do the majority of breath cycles with 10 counts for each inhale and exhale.

At the end of your practice. Sit and breathe equally and mindfully through both nostrils. Observe the quality of the breath, observe the state of the mind and observe the sensations in your body.

Then, let me know how it goes!

Blessings and Love,


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10 thoughts on “5 Minutes to Balance.

  1. Thanks for reminding me of pranayama…I’ve been super lazy about it the past few weeks, even though I know how much I benefit from it. Anyhow, thanks for the reminder, doing alternate nostril breathing in the morning is doable. Have a nice weekend 🙂

    • Happy to help out. It’s definitely doable and it’s pretty great how just a few minutes can make such a big difference in your mental state.
      Enjoy your weekend as well. Blessings!

      • I just remember that I wanted to ask you a question, but I don’t know… well I’ll ask anyway maybe you’ve an idea. I’ve a friend who recently discovered Kundalini Yoga and likes it (which is a big surprise to me, because I always thought she would be repelled by the chanting and breathing)… the problem is: she discovered this Rick Ross homepage on the internet and is now distancing herself from yoga, because she thinks 3ho is a cult and all that crap from this homepage.
        What would you say to her? I already told her to just do KY and nevermind 3HO or religion or anything like that – it’s seperated after all. I know I should just ler her make her own desicions, but I think it’s unfair she wants to quit KY just because someone posted something on the internet… have you as a yoga teacher ever been confronted with a situation like this? I really have no idea what to say or do…and it really makes me angry, too.
        Ah now, I won’t let it spoil my weekend…but any advice would be really helpful, thanks 🙂 Blessings

      • Kim,
        This is definitely a tricky issue. I personally have gone through periods of disconnect with Kundalini Yoga, Yogi Bhajan and 3HO. I remember at White Tantric in 2009 just looking around the room and feeling sooo out of place. It felt like a cult full of crabby old ladies and scary old men! I hated Tantric and I wasn’t connecting with my partner who was hating it more than me! I’ve seen some of those sites that spread lots of salacious rumors about Yogi Bhajan and the organization. Honestly, I stopped paying attention to all that stuff a few years ago.
        What keeps me with KY is the practice itself. I’m not a turban wearing Sikh. I dye my hair, wax my legs, cut my hair, have a nose ring etc. I don’t even wear all white to teach, although I do keep my head covered. I love the practice and I do it every day. I just don’t look like I’m one of “them”.
        Through my time with KY, I’ve learned that I can love the practice and benefit greatly from the yoga and philosophy without following all the “rules” and fitting into the rigid box of how to dress/act the Khalsa way. I love my old white Sikh teachers and have benefited greatly from their devotion to the tradition, but I strongly believe that if this is really the Aquarian Age, those external and material factors and demarcations are totally unnecessary and even detrimental to true spiritual growth and evolution.
        What I would encourage you to say to your friend is pretty much what you’ve already said — Ignore what you read on those inflammatory websites. Just try the yoga and see what it does to you. Notice what you experience in Kundalini Yoga. If the yoga “works” then it doesn’t matter a rat’s ass about the history of Yogi Bhajan and 3HO. All that matters is you and the yoga. Your personal experience is the most important judge.
        Say something along those lines if that rings true for you, and then let it be….everyone has to walk their own path and their own pace.
        Sat Nam.

  2. Frances, thank you so much, this helps a lot 🙂 I’m not anywhere near wanting to act or dress the Khalsa way so I do understand my friend’s doubts, but as you I believe in the value of Kundalini Yoga and would want her to continue. And your post is really helpful, because (I have no idea why) I was pretty much speechless on that matter, but now I’ve an idea what to say…
    And I agree with you. I love the practice, but the whole white, “don’t cut your hair”, Tantric thing isn’t just my thing, but somehow I’m able to seperate it better from my practice than her. But I remember my first reaction to Kundalini Yoga and Sikh teachers and may be I can give my friend some advice from that experience and memory.
    Anyhow,thanks for your help, it’s truly appreciated and now I don’t feel so stuck in this regard anymore 🙂 Sat Nam

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