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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