Very many people suffer stress and anxiety. One of the quickest, easiest and most effective methods I know for dealing with this mental condition is Nadi Shuddhi, better known in the West as ‘Alternate Nostril Breathing’. It is one of many breathing techniques or Pranayama practised by yogis. It is both a cleansing and a meditative practice.
In preparation, take three deep inhalations and exhalations through the nose.
Now, place the index finger of your dominant hand on the brow, immediately above the nose.
Use the thumb and ring finger on either side of the index finger to block each nostril in turn, so that inhalation and exhalation happen through one nostril at a time. Thus:
gently block the right nostril and breathe in slowly through the left. Stop for a brief moment with both nostrils blocked. Then unblock the right nostril and exhale through it.
Now inhale through the right nostril. Again, block both nostrils for a brief moment. Then exhale from the left nostril.
Now inhale again from the left nostril; then block both for a brief moment before breathing out through the right.
Repeat this pattern, initially for a minute or more, getting a nice rhythm going.
There are many advantages to practising this particular Pranayama exercise. Even a minute of alternate nostril breathing can clear the mind and make the practitioner feel relaxed, calm, energised and grounded. Prana or ‘life-force’ that is breathed revitalizes and quickly lifts the mood. Nadi means ‘channel’ and Shuddhi is ‘purification’; so this breathing exercise will cleanse the body’s energy channels to enable Prana to flow more freely.
Depending on which nostril is being used for inhalation, it is possible to use breathing for either peace and calm or for revitalisation. Breathing in through the left nostril connects one to the parasympathetic nervous system, which triggers a relaxation response in the brain. But breathing in through the right nostril connects one to the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the fight/flight response in the brain. In alternate nostril breathing, one is both relaxing and energising oneself! So two opposites come together; the left and right nadis or energy channels are aligned or balanced, as are the two hemispheres of the brain.
Practising alternative nostril breathing will slow down the rate of respiration and the pulse rate. It can prevent panic attacks in highly stressed patients, and can also be a good exercise for some respiratory conditions such as asthma, and for patients with high blood pressure. The relaxation it provides can prevent migraine and insomnia. It is also an excellent meditative practice for progression to more advanced Pranayama and meditation techniques. And, because it is easy to do and works so quickly, alternative nostril breathing is one of my favourite breathing practices – one that I happily recommend to others.