How to Do Alternate Nostril Breathing in Yoga

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I don't relax very easily. I am naturally a nervous, anxious, fidgety person. (Just ask my boyfriend how distracting it can be to watch a movie with me--I'm up every 30 minutes or so and constantly readjust on the couch.)

When I started practicing yoga a couple of years ago, I dreaded the final pose--savasana, or corpse pose. It's meant to help you rejuvenate your body and reduce stress and tension. Well, this pose caused anxiety and tension in me! Lying on the floor for who knows how long, just breathing and letting go! That's hard!

Eventually, as I practiced, I grew more comfortable in savasana. I actually like it now--most of the time. And in addition, I've embraced some of the other relaxation techniques my yoga teachers have taught me, which I hope to share with you.

The first one I want to share with you is a breathing exercise that helps me feel more balanced.

Wednesday was one of those days.

There was an error on one of my bills, and I spent 30 minutes on the phone trying to straighten it out. I forgot to mail an important letter and had to turn around to get it. It was rainy, and the sun was nowhere to be seen. I was tired and overall just didn't feel my best.

By noon, I was ready for a break but had too much to do to get away to the gym just then. Instead, I closed my eyes and practiced a balanced breathing exercise. Two minutes later, I opened my eyes and felt instantly more relaxed.

It's about 3 o'clock right now, which means you're probably scrambling to finish all the tasks you need to accomplish today, the afternoon munchies are setting in, and you're wondering how you'll keep your cool.

Perfect timing.

So what is this two-minute wonder, and how does it work?

This breathing exercise, sometimes called Nadi Shodhana, helps me when I'm having a rough day. I imagine my breath flowing through my body and creating a gentle rocking sensation, like waves against the sides of a boat or a baby being held by its mother. I think about the right and left sides of my brain reaching equilibrium and settling down.

  • Find a comfortable seated position.
  • Place your left hand in your lap.
  • Take your right hand and bend in your index and middle fingers, keeping your pinkie and ring fingers and thumb extended.

  • Place your thumb on the right side of your nose, pressing to close off the nostril.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Take a long, slow inhale through your left nostril.
  • Pause, holding that inhale, as you use your pinkie and ring fingers to close the left nostril and exhale slowly through the right nostril.
  • Next, take a long, slow inhale on the right side, then close off the right side and slowly exhale through your left nostril.
  • Repeat: Inhale on the left, closing the right. Exhale on the right and then inhale on the right, keeping the left side closed. Then switch sides and exhale on the left.
  • Repeat for 10 breaths, focusing on the rhythm of your breath.
  • Breathe in positive energy, happy thoughts and motivation.
  • Breathe out negativity, self-doubt and stagnant energy.
  • Keeping your eyes closed, place your hands in your lap and continue to breathe slowly, evenly and deeply for another 5-10 breaths.
  • Slowly open your eyes.

How do you feel? More centered? Balanced? Calmer?

Did you try this exercise? How do you feel afterwards? Do you have trouble relaxing? How do you calm down when you're feeling stressed?

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tried it and was surprised to find out my right side was congested. I couldn't breathe in or out. Will have to tryagain later. Report
NO. I don't have time to try it. . . . . . oh wait..... then maybe I should try it!

Actually, thanks for the reminder. I remember doing this when I first started yoga many years ago. And it does work.

Perfect timing. Thanks again. Report
I didn't try it, I'm a very calm, laid back person. Don't have any trouble chillin' when I need to. Report
This was very nice. I was stressed at the end of the day and now I feel much calmer. I had learned to do this years ago and just now I did not want to stop doing it. Thank you very much. Sincerely yours... K. Report
Thanks for posting! I get the mid afternoon munchies/blahs on a regular basis, so as someone who has experienced the value of yoga, I am optimistic this will be useful for me! :)
Alternate nostril breathing is great. I have carpal tunnel issues so I just do it my way. Any reason for the hands to be that way?
I have done this for years and found it helpful but I cannot move my thumb to that position without pain so I just do it my way and it helps especially with headaches. Report
I came across this blog at 3:20. I was exhausted, had a headache, and was ready to collapse on the floor from being so hot (my office is too warm for me constantly). I really feel relaxed now. Thanks! Report
I tried this today and it was very relaxing. I will add it to my afternoon ritual of a snack at 2:45. The only problem I had is my nose is kind of congested from allergies and so it was kind of hard to breathe! LOL Report
Will give this a try around 3:00. Believe it may take some practice but.... Thanks. Report
I feel the breathing is probably one of the most important exercises of yoga. I find that I am using the deep breathing whenever I am stressed, it helps during meditation especially when I get distracted with other thoughts. I also found it most useful after having surgery and helping to control any pain or anxiety I was feeling.
i feel much more relaxed now! and what's neat is it really is 3:00 here when i came across this blog:) perfect! Report
Sounds like a great exercise in between counseling clients...I'll try it today. Report
It worked well. Centered breath Report
It definitely works! thank you. Report
Not helped to alleviate my headache for a few minutes anyways. My only question...why use the ring finger and pinky to plug the left side? Why not just use the pointer finger? Just curious. Report
very relaxing.... Report
Wow; I just realized in doing this that my right nostril passage is blocked to an uncomfortable degree! My left is fine, but doing it on the right side, was a struggle that undermined the relaxation aspect since I was working hard to get enough air in and out! Hmmmmmmmmm looks like I need to ask my doc about this.
Kat Report
I have done this exercise for years along with the words(not necessarily out loud)
so-hum(how I learned it). I always use this exercise to calm myself when I am
in a place of extreme stress. Report
I liked this exercise and will use it in the future! Report
Wow. I was surprised by how effective this was. Breathing through only one nostril at a time means that each inhalation and exhalation takes twice as long as usual, and forces you to really concentrate on the process. Report
Thanks! I have not tried yoga YET, but it is something I'm interested in learning. I've read and heard about the great benefits from yoga. I did try this exercise right after reading how to do it and must say I do feel more relaxed. I did find it difficult to do the 10 breaths without my hand cramping up, but I won't be giving this up. I may just have to build my hand up to the 10 breaths! Report
I have practiced this long back.. I will try this more often now... Thanks for reminding.. Report
thanks for the reminder - this is such an easy and relaxing tip! Report
I Feel better with this will use this more often I have heard of deep breathing exercises but this is one I have never tried. thanks Report
Great exercise! Thanks!! Report
If i'm stressed at work I gulp down water. I drink about 12 cups of water just at work, it is very relaxing. Plus it builds in breaks... you have to go to the bathroom a lot! My cubemate will start singing songs like "joy to the world", "the sun'll come out tomorrow" and "don't worry be happy", and it makes me laugh, which in turn makes her laugh. Report
This won't work with a sinus infection, LOLOL Report
I'm not the nervous type at all, don't stress very often but I do a lot of deep breathing and this one is really nice-thanks. Report
When I've traveled to Europe, it was not unusual for shops to close around 1-3 pm in the afternoon. People would go home to have lunch as well as fit in a siesta. Once they were done, they'd be back at work.

There are times when I would love an afternoon nap. I do think I would be much more productive.

Depending on my day, I would love to be able to fit in a breather and some times, I do take a moment to sit and breathe. Does it work ? Some times it does and some times it doesn't. Mostly it depends on what deadlines I have to meet.

Power of suggestion does not work for me in this case. Breathing techniques are useful, but this one does nothing to calm my stress. Report
There is a lovely Steam Room at the gym, and that is a great place to go after an exercise session, and then to a cool shower. Report
I will add this to my routine...........Thanks! Report
Entertainingly enough, when I did this, I discovered not inner calm, but rather... that one side of my nose was slightly stuffed up. Perhaps I'll have to try again another day. =D Report
I always use breathing exercises when I have a craving for a cigarette, they work wonders. This one is good, thanks! Report
This breathing technique is an oldie but goodie! It helps to control my food cravings! Report
WOW!! I was truly surprised, refreshed, restored and calm!! Thanks so much for an exercise that I will definitly continue to use! Report
I have anxiety issues, so this exercise would be very helpful for me.

I tried it, but my right nostril is stuffed up, so it was difficult to do! I had to stop, I wasn't getting enough air. I'll have to try it sometime and blow my nose good first! Report
Hmmm, I must be a lot like you - it was hard to do this 10 times! ;)
I would like to learn more about yoga/stretching/relaxing... Report
thanks - loved this - have not really given yoga a try - will eventually incorporate it into my life. Report
I have practiced Yoga for many years & taught it for a few years too - under the training of highly respected Instructors who were paramount in making yoga popular in the USA during the '70's.
It is so wonderful to see that SparkPeople is supporting something as simple as this powerful breathing practice. It is far more effective than the crazy 'hot yoga' trying to surge the nation now.
Proper Yoga can make you heat up to a sweat in an air conditioned room. This new wave of having the room at 85 degrees or more is not a healthy environment to work out in to me. Report
wow, thanks for this... just what I need! Report
I need to try this more often!!!! Report
I am definitely behind the deep breathing, however congestion keeps me from doing the one nostril at a time bit. I count my breaths, 4 in, 8out. If thoughts pop into my head I imagine each thought in its own cartoon-style thought bubble which I just push away where it will float until I am ready to deal with it. Report
The corpse pose is my favorite part of my yoga workout, because you reap all of the wonderful benefits of doing a hard workout. Report
BONGOBETTE: Sure, reverse the hand position. Just make yourself comfortable. Report
I also had done yoga, I knew this excercise. It is great. There is another excercise which is lying on the floor and put the hands on the side thinking in your the center of the life force and slowly repeat this words to yourself, I must relax my legs, I must relax my arms, I must relax my body, I must relax my head, I must relax my neck, all this with your eyes close then you said: I feel my legs now, I feel my arms now, I feel my body now, I feel my head now, I feel my neck, then you open your eyes and you are relax. Report
This was very relaxing! Tried it right away as I read your description. Think I will use it most days just to calm down the fast pace we all live in. Thanks for sharing. Report
I think I'll show this one to my hubby....hopefully it will help him relax! Report
My right middle finger triggers and stays bent if I put it in that position. Can I reverse the hand positions? Report
Talk about timing. I woke up early this morning with much of yesterday still weighing me down. I really needed to catch my breath today, it was running away from me.

I learned this breathing technique in my drama classes years ago and knew it was part of Yoga, but didn't know the name.

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