Pranayama (breathing techniques) is such an important and integral part of yoga practice, sadly this often gets overlooked in modern yoga classes.
By shaping the breath we are given the ability to quieten the mind, lower stress levels and manage our energy levels more effectively.
Generally speaking we only use around 10-20% of the capacity of our lungs and by practicing pranayama we start to use our lungs at their full capacity.
Alternate nostril breathing: Nadi shodhana
One pranayama practice that I often include in my classes and in my own personal practice due to it's many benefits is Nadi Shodana , or alternate nostril breathing. Nadi being Sanskrit for ‘channel’ and shodhan is Sanskrit for ‘cleansing’ or ‘purification’. This practice helps us to feel calm, centered and focused by quietening our ‘monkey mind’ and bringing our attention to the present moment.
It helps to balance the left (logical) and right (emotional) hemispheres of the brain as well as the masculine and feminine energies channels of the body (nadis). Nadi shodhana reduces stress levels by calming the nervous system, helping us to feel more relaxed enabling us to better cope with everyday day stresses.
How to practice nadi shodhana pranayama:
Come into a comfortable seated position. Keep the spine straight, shoulders and jaw relaxed.
Place the middle and index fingers of the right hand to the pad of the right thumb or to the third eye if that is more comfortable.
Use the right thumb to close the right nostril, softly close the eyes and exhale fully through the left nostril.
Inhale for a count of 5 through the left nostril, close the left nostril, release the right nostril and exhale through the right for a count of 5. Inhale through the right for 5, close the right nostril, release the left nostril and exhale through the left for 5. This is one round.
Repeat for 10 rounds (or more), rest the hands back down to your lap or knees and take normal breaths, keeping the softly closed.
Unlike some pranayama techniques, nadi shodhana can be practiced at any time of the day but should due to its balancing effect. I find it particularly beneficial as part of my morning practice as it puts me in the right frame of mind for the rest of the day.
It’s also a great way to wind down before bed, particularly if your mind still feels active.
Add this to the start of your home asana or meditation practice and see the many benefits for yourself!