What is Breathing Nostril Alternating?


Last Updated on August 21, 2021

Did you know that you breathe through one nostril at a time, with your body alternating it every few hours? This cycle is due in part to our autonomic nervous system —  which controls our breathing and heart rate.

The cause for this phenomenon is subject to much debate. Scientists say this happens so that no nostril gets too dried out and instead maintains an optimal moisture level. Others would attribute our breathing pattern to heart rate, blood pressure, autism, fever, blood glucose levels, and the like.

For many, this function remains a mystery. But for many cultures, manipulating your nose for health purposes is a practice that’s been preserved and upheld for centuries. In particular, the alternating nostril breathing technique has sprung in yogic culture and has spread through parts of the globe.

Let’s look at the facts surrounding this mystical yogic technique.

What is An Alternating Nostril Breathing Technique?

Art of Living Health Benefits.
Photo by Conscious Design on Unsplash

An alternating nostril breathing practice is a yogic practice that promotes relaxation and lessens stress. It taps into the body’s natural stress-reduction mechanisms to provide quiet and stillness in your mind.

In Sanskrit, the alternating nostril breathing practice is known as Nadi Shodhana Pranayama.  Nadi means “channel.” Shodhana means “purification”. Pranymana can be further divided into Prana (“vital life force”) and Yama (“to gain control”).

As a whole, Nadi Shodhana Pranayama roughly translates to “subtle energy clearing breathing technique.”

What Are The Health Benefits of Alternate Nostril Breathing Practice?

Alternate nostril breathing improves your well-being by helping you live more fully in the present moment. Aside from its potential to holistically heal the body, it also accomplishes the following:

  • reduces anxiety
  • promotes one’s well being
  • relaxes the body and mind

The benefits of alternate nostril breathing techniques are numerous for the mind, body, and soul. More of the benefits of the alternate nostril breathing practice include the following found below:

Improves cardiovascular function and decreases stress

One of the greatest attributes of alternate nostril breathing is that it has a good chance to lower stress. A 2013 study examined participants and it showed that those who’ve performed the alternate nostril breathing technique experienced fewer stress levels.

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In the same study, which analyzed different breathing practices, alternate nostril breathing was the only healing technique that positively affected cardiovascular function. The participants were taught this breathwork for 30 minutes thrice a week by a yoga instructor. It showed a significant decrease in blood pressure and respiratory rate.

Readies the person for advanced Pranamaya

Humanity has developed bad breathing patterns over the years: years of stress, pollution, and bad posture topping those reasons. The Pranayama techniques, in response, fix our bad breathing habits.

By practicing the alternating nostril breathing technique, you prepare yourself for an easier time for future Pranayama techniques. This is because this breath technique helps make breathing long, smooth, and steady. This, in turn, will open the door for more health benefits and greater well-being.

Lowers heart rate

Another great aspect of alternate nostril breathing is how it can lower heart rate. In a 2006 study, engaging in alternate nostril breathing or other breathing exercises decreases your breathing rhythm and heart rate.

Improves respiratory endurance and breathing capacity

You can improve your breathing capacity and respiratory endurance with the alternate nostril breathing technique as well. In a 2017 study, researchers evaluated pranayama practice’s effects on competitive swimmers. The findings reported that respiratory endurance has been increased in those who underwent this form of practice.

Decrease anxiety and stress

A 2018 study found that yogic breathing can help clear the mind and stop anxiety, among other ways to improve your well-being. It calms and centers the mind. These improvements come in the form of neurocognitive, metabolic, and respiratory improvements in the bodies of healthy people.

Aside from those benefits, breathing through your nostrils in this way can activate and enhance your parasympathetic nervous system.

How do you do the alternate nostril breathing technique?

  • Find a comfortable position to sit on where your hip is relaxed and spine long. Break loose any tension in your body and jaw and slowly close your eyes.
  • Place your left hand on top of your left knee. Once there, have your palm face upward and touch the tips of your thumb and index finger. (Chin Mudra)
  • For your right hand, place the tip of your index finger and middle finger on your forehead between your eyebrows. In the left nostril, allow your ring finger and little finger to rest on it. Place the thumb on your right nostril.
  • Once you exhale, disrupt the flow of air on your right nostril with your thumb. In its place, breathe out with only the left nostril.
  • With both nostrils open, breathe once more. Close the right nostril and breathe out with only your left nostril.
  • When inhaling, breathe through your left nostril and then, with your ring finger, close it. Let go of the thumb on the right side of your nostril and inhale through it. Close the thumb, let go of the ring finger that’s obstructing your left nostril, and exhale through the left nostril. Keep the flow of your breathing gentle and slow; you’ve just done one round of the alternate nostril breathing technique.
  • Do around 5 to 12 rounds of this alternate breath technique, alternating between your nostrils to complete the cycle.
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Remember: inhale through the same nostril where you’ve exhaled slowly and gently. The pattern is to breathe out, then inhale, then switch sides. Do all this gently; don’t demand too much force or pressure on your breath.

For visualization: Imagine the breath as a form of light that ends in your third eye in your forehead. Visualize it moving alongside your breath like a stream.

This alternate nostril breathing technique is a great way to end a yoga or meditation practice.

When’s the best time to practice alternate nostril breathing?

Find a place where you feel most comfortable to perform the alternate nostril breath practice. This could be a quiet, remote area with little to no distractions, anytime between morning to evening. Experiment with the best timing.

You may also do this practice midday when you need to take a break and de-stress from work or school.

This practice reaps the best results on an empty stomach. It also works as a great finisher after or before yoga and before your meditation practice

If you feel bloated, nauseous, or congested, you shouldn’t do this nostril breathwork technique.

Does it matter which nostril you breathe through?

A study showed that breathing through your right nostril uses more oxygen than the left nostril. But in some cases, breathing through one nostril predominantly can cause illnesses.

For example, breathing through your right nostril for years on end without switching is said to contribute to causing diabetes.

Are there other types of Pranayama?

Pingala Nadi picture
Photo by Ale Romo Photography on Unsplash

There are many other breathing techniques that one can use to improve their holistic health. The best one, however, is subjective and depends on your life situation. 

In such cases, it’s optimal to consult a professional or yogic instructor to find the right Pranayama practice for you.

Ocean’s Breath

If you feel angry and irritated at the world, the Ocean’s Breath Pranayama can help ground you. It’s said to be mostly calming but can also turn out to warm up considerably. This is because this Pranayama can stimulate the oxidation process.

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Cooling Breath

How this works: Fold your mouth’s tongue, maintain it, and inhale as deep as you can. Close your eyes, hold your breath for around 8 seconds, and then let go through your nose. Do this eight times for around eight minutes.

The Cooling Breath reduces pitta (or heat) around parts of your body, namely your upper digestive tract, head, and neck. It also handles bronchitis, asthma, and chronic constipation.

Hissing Breath

Inhale with your nostril, hold your breath for eight seconds, then let go with your mouth. You must do this while having your teeth lay on your tongue and making an “s-s-s” sound with your tongue. With this Pranayama, you reduce both pitta and purify your senses.

Are following these yogic breathing techniques safe?

For healthy people with no comorbidities, this breathing technique won’t pose any problems. If you have COPD, asthma, or lung or heart concerns, notify your doctor before pushing through with this breath exercise.

If you feel any mental or physical symptoms like shortness of breath arising, stop this breathwork immediately. This further extends if you’re feeling dizzy, nauseous, or lightheaded. 

While most cases won’t entail medical attention, don’t hesitate to call if any unnatural developments occur.

Conclusion of Breathing Nose Alternating Technique

This alternating nose breathing technique is great at handling stress and helping people get through life’s troubles.

While it may seem strange to find solace in a physiological need, honing your breathing technique is truly beneficial.

We’re calling out to you, dear reader, to give this quick breathing pattern a shot next time. Record the benefits and see if it works for you just as the experts claim. Good luck!

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