Updated: Aug 22
Nadi Shodhana—also known as alternate nostril breathing—is one of the most common pranayama breathing techniques taught in yoga. In this blog we’ll be exploring what Nadi Shodhana is, what benefits this pranayama brings and how you can practice it as part of a holistic yoga practice.
If you’re curious to learn more in general about breathing in yoga and pranayama check out my other blog that covers why the breath is such an integral part of yoga.
What is Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)?
Nadi Shodhana is Sanskrit for alternate nostril breathing. It’s a specific pranayama breathing technique that involves controlling the breath by breathing in and out through each nostril.
Below you can find the basic instructions you can learn the pranayama breathing exercise Nadi Shodhana.
Find a comfortable seated position and take a few slow and steady breaths.
Bring your right hand up towards your face and let your right elbow drop down to keep the right arm relaxed throughout.
Let your thumb rest gently over your right nostril and your ring (fourth) finger over your left nostril.
Inhale gently through both nostrils. Close your left nostril with your ring finger and exhale out of your right nostril.
Inhale through your right nostril. Then close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale from your left nostril.
Inhale through your left nostril. And then once more close your left nostril with your ring finger and exhale from your right nostril.
Continue breathing in this way for another 5 – 10 rounds. Perhaps over time starting to count and lengthen the breath coming in and out.
Finish your last round by exhaling through your right nostril.
Stay seated as you take a few steady and slow breaths out of both nostrils. Noticing how you feel after the practice.
What happens during Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)?
If you pay specific attention to your breathing you’ll notice that at a specific point in time one nostril will be more open than the other. You can feel this by placing your hand under your nose and noticing when you breath out the nose that you feel more air coming out of one of your nostrils.
Every couple of hours the dominant open nostril will change. So if you try this a few times during a day you’ll likely notice more air coming out of one nostril, and then the other.
Alternate nostril breathing works by channeling the breath through one nostril at a time. Due to the fact that when you practice one of your nostrils is more closed than the other, you’ll likely notice this as you do the practice.
While you’re doing this breathing technique see if you can do your best to equalize each inhale and exhale through each nostril. After a few rounds it can be helpful to count your breath so you can really focus on balancing each breath.
After you’ve finished this pranayama it can be interesting to take a few slow and steady breaths in and out of both nostrils and notice how your breath, body and mind feels.
What are the Benefits of Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)?
One of the benefits of Nadi Shodhana can be felt in your natural breathing pattern. You might observe that after this breathing technique that your breathing feels longer, slower, fuller and more at ease.
While other benefits can be felt more generally on your mood and emotions. Perhaps you notice that you feel calmer, more relaxed, and can help you at times of heightened anxiety.
Also as you start to practice this more regularly over a longer period of time it could help with improving your sleep and general sense of well-being.
How to Practice Pranayama Techniques with Hatha Yoga
Nadi Shodhana can be a great pranayama practice for beginners. You just need to take some time to get familiar with the breathing technique.
Often starting with a guided practice can be helpful to learn the basic principles. And then once you’re more familiar with the breathing exercise itself you can start to practice on your own.
Alternate nostril breathing is a pranayama that you can easily practice by itself without having to do any preparations. This can be perfect to do if you have limited time or want to use it to directly help you manage with a stressful circumstance.
If you’ve got a bit more time though I find that combining yoga and breathing techniques together in one practice can help strengthen each other.
The hatha yoga can help lengthen and open the body, to give you more space in the torso to breathe effectively in pranayama. While the pranayama breathing exercises can help you learn how to breathe more effectively in yoga poses.
I therefore recommend you experiment with the below four steps of a hatha yoga and pranayama practice. Something that you can custom to the amount of time you have available to practice and what type of yoga and breathing exercises you’d like to focus on.
Step 1: Breath Awareness Meditation
Begin coming to a comfortable seated or lying position. Start to bring your awareness towards your breathing. Doing your best to observe your natural breath without changing it in any way.
Observe the length and depth of your breath. If there are any noticeable differences between your inhale and exhale. See if you can start to notice the origin of your breathing and sensations in your body related to your breath.
Perhaps you notice your breath present in the nostrils? Or you feel the belly or chest moving as you breathe in and out.
Doing your best to stay anywhere between 2 – 10 minutes in stillness and keeping your focus on watching your breath.
Step 2: Hatha Yoga Practices
From here you can start to slowly move the body, while keeping awareness on your breath. See if you can keep your breathing slow and steady as you start to link each movement with your breath.
You might choose to start reaching your arms up and overhead on your inhale. And then on your exhale slowly lower the arms back down. You could then keep repeating this movement several times with your focus on moving with your breath.
This yoga part of the practice could be anywhere between 5 – 20 minutes.
A focus on side bending and twisting can be helpful to lengthen your spine, while hip openers can be useful to support opening the body to be able to sit comfortably for pranayama practices.
Step 3: Pranayama Breathing Exercise
For the pranayama breathing exercises you can find a seated position. Either sitting crossed legged on the floor or in a chair if that’s more comfortable.
Start by taking a few rounds of slow and steady breaths through the nose. And then from here you can start with your specific breathing technique like Nadi Shodhana.
You can take your time with this part of your practice. Allowing your pranayama to be anywhere between 10 – 20 minutes.
Step 4: Breath Awareness Meditation
Once you finish the breathing technique you can release the control of your breath and allow your natural breath to return.
You can choose to continue sitting for this part, or to lie down on your back in relaxation. Take at least a few rounds of slow and steady breaths. Noticing how your body, breath and mind feel after your practice.
You might choose to stay here anywhere between 5 – 10 minutes.
Once you’re ready to come out move slow. Bring awareness back to your body once more. Perhaps wiggling your fingers and toes. Or taking a final stretch by reaching arms up and over the head.
And then slowly start to open your eyes with a soft gaze as you soak in your practice and prepare to move on with the rest of your day.
Tips for Practicing Hatha Yoga and Pranayama Techniques
You can experiment with the order of your hatha yoga and pranayama techniques. Trying perhaps to do the pranayama practice before your hatha yoga routine.
By doing the pranayama practice first you might find you have more awareness on your breath during your yoga practice. Although the body may also feel a bit more stiff and cool when sitting for the breathing exercises.
Since there are advantages and disadvantages of both the best advice is to find the order that works best for you. And perhaps every now and again experimenting with changing this order and noticing how this might subtly change your practice.
If you're struggling with concentrating during your pranayama practice it can work well doing some yoga before sitting in stillness. Often moving with awareness on your breath can help calm the mind and make it a bit easier to later focus your mind on the breathing exercises.
Only got 5 - 10 minutes to practice? Don't try and do everything quickly. But instead take your time with either a short pranayama or yoga practice.
After all it's better to do one practice well then loosing your focus and rushing through more practices.
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