In this technique, breath is inhaled, retained, and exhaled alternately between the left and right nostrils. This pranayama is based around the concept that the nerve associated with the right nostril, called Pingala, holds qualities of the sun, or Surya, and the nerve associated with the left nostril, called Ida, holds qualities of the moon, or Chandra.
Breathing through the right nostril is associated with the following:
- Increase in heat in the body, or temperature.
- Increase in blood pressure and blood circulation.
- Stimulation of energy in the nervous system.
- Activating the area of the brain that deals with logic and rational thought.
Breathing through the left nostril is associated with the following:
- Decrease in body temperature.
- Decrease in blood pressure.
- Calming of energy in the nervous system.
- Activating the area of the brain that deals with creativity and emotions.
The purpose of this technique is to balance the nervous system, so that you do not have too much of the qualities associated with the right nostril or the left nostril. It is a bit like setting the thermostat in the house to the default setting, so that it is not too hot or too cold. Everything is in balance, as you have created harmony in your body through your nervous system. Alternate Nostril is a very good general one to overcome problems in many areas: ears, nose, throat, sinuses, hay fever, headaches, a cloudy or dull mind.
There are two general ways you can practice Alternate Breathing: without breath retention (known as “Nadi Shodhana”), or with breath retention (known as “Anulom Vilom”). The instructions given here are for Nadi Shodhana, i.e., letting the breath flow without any retention. You can look to incorporate breath retention once you are familiar with performing Nadi Shodhana. There is also more than one hand position you can employ. The one described below is the simple Chi Kri “Pinch Grip”.
- Sit in meditation posture, with the spine held upright, and the mouth and eyes closed. Keep the chin parallel to the floor, the shoulders relaxed, the hands on the knees, or the lap, with the palms turned up.
- Raise the right (or left) hand and turn the palm towards you. Leave the forefinger and thumb extended outwards and bend all other fingers in.
- If you are using the right hand, lightly block the entrance to the left nostril with the pad of the forefinger and breathe in slowly through the right nostril; if you are using the left hand, then use the thumb instead of the forefinger and vice-versa. Be careful not to press onto the nose or put the finger into the nose.
- When the inhalation is complete, block the right nostril with the pad of the thumb and, unblocking the left nostril, exhale slowly. When the exhalation is complete, breathe in through the left nostril. When the inhalation is complete, block the left nostril, and unblocking the right nostril, exhale slowly. This is one round of Nadi Shodhana.
- Perform 6 or 12 rounds. Relax the hand and bring it down after finishing the exhalation from the right nostril of the last round.
- To finish, sit in meditation position with your eyes closed. Allow the breathing to return to normal and observe how you are feeling for a few moments before opening your eyes. Remain in the state of calmness for as long as you can after coming out.