Alternate Nostril Breathing

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:

12 Great Reasons To Start Alternate Nostril Breathing: by Carole Fogarty

Mapping the Mind: Revised and Updated Edition by Rita Carter

Basic Instructions for Alternate Nostril Breathing

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

The Long Haul to Discover Success

As many of my students are expressing concerns about not sticking to their New Year’s resolutions, I thought it might be the perfect time to discuss long-term goals.  What motivates us to stick to long-term goals?  What barriers get in the way of realizing our dreams?  Why do we often lose our sense of engagement with our commitments?  These are all questions I am sure we have all asked ourselves at some point.  The answers will not only be individualized to each person, but also unique to each particular endeavor. Let us explore some of the most common challenges to long-term goals.

  • the goal that we have set is unrealistic or unsustainable
  • we disregard the natural ebb & flow of other life challenges/stresses
  • failure to incorporate self-compassion into our plan
  • rigidity, all-or-nothing thinking
  • going it alone, unwilling to engage the help of others

So what are some ways to be more successful in realizing our dreams?

  • have a flexible view about what success looks like
  • monitor and adjust your plans according to changes in your life circumstances
  • treat yourself with kindness and compassion
  • positive thinking and visualization, imagine yourself succeeding
  • celebrate achievements along the path
  • include others in your plans and celebrations
  • make sustainable lifestyle changes and not just time-lined end goals

This obviously is not an exhaustive writing on success, but instead is meant as a jumping off point or overview.  It is my wish that everyone feel empowered to strive and push their boundaries, but in a way that cultivates self-compassion.  I believe without challenging ourselves we loss passion and a sense of truly being alive.  Along with energetic passion there comes the need to find balance through rejuvenating thoughts and actions.  Finding that balance is an ever evolving challenge that keeps us on our toes and keeps life interesting.