Anulomvilom Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing) – A form of Nadi Shodhana
This is the second in a four part mini series on yoga for stress, check out the rest by visiting the resources page
Nadi Shodhana literally means to clear or purify the channels. Nadi is channel. In yoga physiology there are around 72,000 nadi or energy channels flowing around the body (some texts say vastly more). There are 3 main channels – Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. Ida flows through the left side of the body, affecting the right side of the brain and the feminine energies of the moon, mindfulness and thoughtfulness. Pingala flows through the right side of the body affecting the left hemisphere of the brain, the male energy linked to the sun, digestion and physical exertion. Sushumna flows through the spine, bringing all the energies together through the chakras.
Normally, we use different sides of the brain alternately e.g. the right side is activated when thinking creatively and the left side is activated when using rational, logical thought. However, during moments of inspiration or ‘flow’ as many people describe it, it is like everything comes together and our output is perfect. Athletes experience this often during competitions. During this time, we experience ‘whole brain functioning’ – when both sides of the brain are activated simultaneously.
Meditation helps this to occur spontaneously but we can also help it along by adjusting our breathing.
Do me a favour, K? Close one nostril with your finger, take a breath in, then swop. Does one nostril feel clearer than the other? Roughly every 90 minutes or so, your ‘dominant’ nostril switches, and so to does your brain. If you’re eating or exercises, it’s more than likely your right nostril will be clearer, linking to the left side of the brain. If you’re resting or involved in creative work it’s likely to be the opposite.
This form of Nadi Shodhana seeks to manually manipulate the nostrils (not painfully!!) to get both open and active at the same time (you can just focus on one though if, for example you want to go to sleep but can’t relax, you would focus on opening the left nostril), leading to a feeling of calm awareness and being ‘in flow’. It also lowers the heart rate and reduces stress and anxiety (awesome hey?!).
How to do it:
• Sit cross-legged with your back straight (use a cushion if necessary to tilt the pelvis forward) or sit upright in a chair.
• Place your left hand in chin mudra
• Place your right hand in mrigi mudra
• Close your eyes and take a few deeper breaths to relax and focus.
• Use the little finger of your right hand to close the left nostril. Inhale through the right nostril for a count of 1.
• Close the right nostril with the thumb whilst keeping the left nostril closed with the little finger – hold the breath inside for a count of 2.
• Release the little finger and breathe out of the left nostril for a count of 2.
• Breathe in through the left nostril for a count of 1.
• Close the left nostril whilst keeping the right closed. Hold the breath inside for a count of 2.
• Release the right nostril and breathe out for a count of two.
• Repeat the whole cycle for up to ten breaths initially.
If the counting is confusing you, just breathe normally initially. Similarly, if you want to increase the counting you can keep the ratio 1:2:2 e.g. in for 2, hold for 4, exhale for 4 etc.