Benefits and Risks of Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana Pranayama)

Alternate nostril breathing is a form of yogic breathing practice that is often used to help relax and reduce stress levels. Many people are aware that the term ‘pranayama’ is used to refer to all forms of yogic breathing practices. This practice is also known as the art of breath control. Alternate nostril breathing is known as Nadi Shodhana Pranayama in Sanskrit, which translates to mean ‘subtle energy clearing breathing technique.’ Alternate nostril breathing has become quite popular in recent years, and it can be done as part of your daily meditation or yoga practice. It can also be done on its own to help you quieten and calm your mind. Read on to find out about the benefits and risks of alternate nostril breathing.

Benefits of Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate nostril breathing may help in reducing anxiety levels, relax your mind and body, and also promote overall well-being. These benefits of this type of breathing technique may, in turn, help you become more aware and focused. It is possible to use the alternate nostril breathing technique to manage the many stresses of your day-to-day life.(1, 2, 3, 4) You will also find that practicing this breathing technique regularly will help you become more mindful of the present moment. For example, Hilary Clinton had written in her book “What Happened” that she frequently used alternate nostril breathing after losing the 2016 United States presidential election to manage her anxiety and stress.(5, 6, 7)

Let us take a closer look at the benefits of alternate nostril breathing.

  1. Reduces Stress and Boosts Cardiovascular Function

    One of the biggest benefits of alternate nostril breathing is that it helps reduce stress. A study carried out by JIPMER in India in 2013 found that people who regularly practiced alternate nostril breathing successfully lowered their perceived stress levels.(8) These results were also found to be consistent in the group that practiced fast breathing techniques such as the breath of fire.

    In the same study, alternate nostril breathing was the only type of breathing technique that was found to have a positive impact on cardiovascular function. The study found significantly lower factors of blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate in the participants who practiced this breathing method. After 12 weeks of practicing alternate nostril breathing, the participants experienced an improvement in respiratory rate, heart rate and blood pressure. The participants were taught the breathing technique for 30 minutes three times a week by a professional yoga instructor.

  2. Improvement in Lung Function and Higher Respiratory Endurance

    There are many yogic breathing practices that help improve lung function and boost respiratory endurance. A small study done in 2017 looked at the impact of pranayama breathing practice on lung functions of several competitive swimmers.(9) The study found that yogic breathing practices like alternate nostril breathing had a positive impact on the swimmers’ respiratory endurance, and improved respiratory endurance might help improve their athletic performance.

    The swimmers who participated in the study practiced alternate nostril breathing along with two other breathing techniques for half an hour, five days a week for one entire month. However, larger and more in-depth research studies are still needed to expand upon these initial findings.

  3. Reduces Heart Rate

    Lowering your heart rate helps boost your cardiovascular health. As per a 2006 study, regular practice of slow yogic breathing like alternative nostril breathing can dramatically lower your heart rate and the average breathing rhythm.(10) Alternate nostril breathing is believed to be a helpful technique to lower your heart rate in the exact moment of need as well. However, more research is still needed to better comprehend the long-term effects of alternate nostril breathing and other yogic breathing patterns on heart rates.

  4. Promotes overall Well-being

    Alternate nostril breathing may boost your overall health and well-being. It has also been found to have a positive impact on mental health as it reduces anxiety and stress. A study in 2011 found that a six-week alternative nostril breathing program had a hugely positive effect on both physiological and physical fitness-based performance of the participants.(11) The breathing pattern was found to positively influence heart rate, vital capacity, and blood pressure.

    Another review from 2018 found that various types of yogic breathing had many positive benefits for health, including improvements to respiratory, metabolic, and neurocognitive functions in healthy adults.(12)

    Alternate nostril breathing was also found to boost breath awareness, leading to a beneficial impact on the nervous system.

How to Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique?

You can practice alternate nostril breathing on your own, but if you are a beginner, it may help to have a yoga teacher show you how it is done in person so that you can rest assured that you are doing it correctly. The ultimate focus of this breathing exercise is to keep your breath slow, smooth, and continuous. Focusing on your breath helps you remember where you are in the breathing cycle. So you should be able to breathe easily throughout the exercise.

Here are the steps to practice alternate nostril breathing:

  • Sit down in a comfortable position and keep your legs crossed.
  • Place your left hand on your left knee.
  • Now lift your right hand up towards your nose.
  • After exhaling completely, use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
  • Now inhale through your left nostril.
  • Then close the left nostril with your fingers, open the right nostril, and exhale through the right side.
  • Again inhale through the right nostril and close this nostril with your fingers.
  • Open your left nostril and exhale through the left nostril.
  • This completes one entire cycle of alternate nostril breathing.
  • You should continue doing this for at least five minutes.
  • Always remember to complete the practice by finishing with an exhale from the left nostril.

When Should You Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing?

You can practice alternate nostril breathing at any time and place that is most comfortable and best suited to you. However, you may find that you will enjoy doing it more in the early morning or evenings. If you need to relax or focus, this practice can be done even during the day.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that alternate nostril breathing is best done on an empty stomach. You should not practice alternate nostril breathing if you are congested or sick.

You can also practice alternate nostril breathing before or after your yoga session. It is only over time that you will find out which time and way suits you best as everyone has a different experience. People who practice alternate nostril breathing at the start of their meditation practice have found that it helps deepen their concentration during meditation.

Is It Safe To Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing?

Practicing alternate nostril breathing is considered to be safe for most people. However, if you have a medical condition like asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or any other type of heart or lung condition, it is always best to talk to your doctor before beginning any such yogic breathing practices.

If you experience any adverse side effects like shortness of breath while doing the breathing exercise, you should stop doing the exercise immediately. Also, stop practicing if you feel dizzy, nauseous, or lightheaded.(13)

If you find that alternate nostril breathing is making you feel agitated or it is triggering any form of physical or mental symptoms, you should stop practicing the exercise immediately.

Conclusion

Alternate nostril breathing is an excellent form of yogic breathing technique to help you clear your mind, reduce stress, or just relax. The basic purpose of this technique is to bring more awareness to your breathing, which can help you increase your awareness in the other parts of your life as well. While there are many potential benefits of alternate nostril breathing, it is essential to note that you can only achieve and maintain these benefits if you practice this breathing technique regularly.

However, remember that any type of breathing technique is not a substitute for medical treatment. This is why it is important to talk to your doctor before beginning any kind of breathing practice, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions or concerns.

References:

  1. Art of Living (United States). 2021. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana Pranayama). [online] Available at: <https://www.artofliving.org/us-en/yoga/breathing-techniques/alternate-nostril-breathing-nadi-shodhan> [Accessed 30 December 2021].
  2. Chopra. 2021. Nadi Shodhana: How to Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing. [online] Available at: <https://chopra.com/articles/nadi-shodhana-how-to-practice-alternate-nostril-breathing> [Accessed 30 December 2021].
  3. 3ho.org. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.3ho.org/files/pdfs/alternate-nostril-breathing.pdf> [Accessed 30 December 2021].
  4. mindbodygreen. 2021. A 5-Minute Breath Technique For A Calm Mind & Balanced Body. [online] Available at: <https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/alternate-nostril-breathing> [Accessed 30 December 2021].
  5. Hamblin, J., 2021. How Alternate-Nostril Breathing Works. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: <https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/09/how-alternate-nostril-breathing-works/539955/> [Accessed 30 December 2021].
  6. Ornish Lifestyle Medicine. 2021. Ornish Lifestyle Medicine | How Alternate Nostril Breathing Helped Hillary Clinton. [online] Available at: <https://www.ornish.com/zine/how-yoga-and-alternate-nostril-breathing-helped-hillary-clinton/> [Accessed 30 December 2021].
  7. HuffPost UK. 2021. Why Hillary Clinton Is Into ‘Alternate Nostril Breathing’. [online] Available at: <https://www.huffpost.com/entry/hillary-clinton-alternate-nostril-breathing_n_59b93f6de4b02da0e13e3cfd> [Accessed 30 December 2021].
  8. Sharma, V.K., Trakroo, M., Subramaniam, V., Rajajeyakumar, M., Bhavanani, A.B. and Sahai, A., 2013. Effect of fast and slow pranayama on perceived stress and cardiovascular parameters in young health-care students. International journal of yoga, 6(2), p.104.
  9. Hakked, C.S., Balakrishnan, R. and Krishnamurthy, M.N., 2017. Yogic breathing practices improve lung functions of competitive young swimmers. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 8(2), pp.99-104.
  10. Jovanov, E., 2006, January. On spectral analysis of heart rate variability during very slow yogic breathing. In 2005 IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology 27th Annual Conference (pp. 2467-2470). IEEE.
  11. Singh, S., Gaurav, V. and Parkash, V., 2011. Effects of a 6-week nadi-shodhana pranayama training on cardio-pulmonary parameters. Journal of physical Education and Sport Management, 2(4), pp.44-47.
  12. Saoji, A.A., Raghavendra, B.R. and Manjunath, N.K., 2019. Effects of yogic breath regulation: A narrative review of scientific evidence. Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine, 10(1), pp.50-58.
  13. Holton, M.K. and Barry, A.E., 2014. Do side-effects/injuries from yoga practice result in discontinued use? Results of a national survey. International journal of yoga, 7(2), p.152.