The first time a student is introduced to alternate nostril breathing (ANB) they usually feel silly or don’t believe it is worth the effort. Luckily, most people try it and finish with an excited, “WOW”. Students have reported feeling significantly calmer, their sinuses clearer and their breath deeper. Some of the power of ANB comes from opening the sinus passages, but a lot of its power comes from bi-lateral stimulation. I plan to talk more in-depth about bi-lateral stimulation in a future post, but for now let us keep it simple. Bi-lateral stimulation refers to activating one side of the body-mind and then the other, which in turn alternately activates the two halves of our pre-frontal cortex. The pre-frontal cortex is the part of our brain responsible for higher order thinking. Well to make a long story short, these two halves of the brain communicate with each other through areas of the brain that are responsible for homeostasis. This homeostasis or balance is both physiological and emotional. In essence we are strengthening our ability to feel balanced. If you want to investigate further on your own, here are some places to start:
Basic Instructions for Alternate Nostril Breathing
- Sit upright with your spine tall. If you are uncomfortable sitting cross-legged on the floor, you may want to sit in a chair with both feet flat on the floor. Keeping your spine tall will allow your breath to move in and out of the chest cavity with less resistance.
- Relax, close your eyes and breathe naturally for several cycles of breath. If your sinuses feel blocked you may choose to gently blow your nose. (Keep tissues nearby while practicing ANB.)
- Bring your right hand up to your face. Practice closing off one nasal passage at a time. Usually the thumb closes the right nostril and your middle finger closes off the left nostril. Experiment using other fingers if this is not the most comfortable combination for you.
- Start by exhaling fully and then closing off the right nostril with your thumb. Inhale and then exhale through the left nostril. Switch and close off the left nostril. Inhale and then exhale through the right nostril.
- Repeat for three or more cycles. Return to your natural breath for a few moments and then begin ANB again. When you feel ready you can extend the number of cycles of ANB. If you begin to feel tense or panicky return to your natural breath and focus on a slow gentle rhythm of breathing.
Extra Tips for Practicing Alternate Nostril Breathing
- Try to always stop and start with your left nostril. The left side is believed to activate the calming and cooling aspects within the brain.
- Eventually you can work up to practicing for 5-10 minutes.
- If you find your mind wandering, gently guide it back to attending to your breath.
- If allergies make this practice difficult, using a neti pot can help tremendously. The combination of the neti pot and ANB can greatly reduce the symptoms of seasonal allergies.