The Power of Alternate Nostril Breathing: Balancing Body and Mind
Understanding Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing, also known as Nadi Shodhana or Anulom Vilom, is a yogic breath control practice with roots in Indian spiritual traditions. It involves the sequential inhaling and exhaling of breath through one nostril at a time, and is often incorporated into mindfulness and relaxation methods due to its calming effect on the body and mind.
Translating to ‘subtle energy clearing breathing technique’ in Sanskrit, alternate nostril breathing can be performed as part of a yoga or meditation practice, or as a separate exercise to help still the mind. Numerous variations of pranayama – the yogic art of breath control – exist, but alternate nostril breathing is perhaps one of the most common and beneficial.
How to Perform Alternate Nostril Breathing
Performing alternate nostril breathing is simple and requires no special equipment. Start by sitting in a comfortable position with a straight spine. Then, using the right thumb, block the right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril. After inhaling, block the left nostril with the right ring finger and exhale through the right nostril. Repeat this process, alternating the nostrils, for several minutes. Over time, the duration of the exercise can be increased as one becomes more comfortable with the practice.
The Multifaceted Benefits of Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is more than just a breath control exercise; it offers a range of physical and mental benefits that contribute to overall well-being. These benefits, supported by various clinical studies, span from stress reduction and improved cardiovascular function to enhanced lung function and respiratory endurance.
Reducing Stress and Promoting Cardiovascular Health
A 2018 study found that men who practiced alternate nostril breathing for 30 minutes daily experienced lower perceived stress levels after three months. Additionally, a 2020 study involving 100 medical students showed improvements in pulse and blood pressure biomarkers after four weeks of practice, suggesting potential benefits for managing stress-related cardiovascular disease risk factors.
Enhancing Lung Function and Respiratory Endurance
A small 2017 study examining competitive swimmers discovered that pranayama practice had a positive effect on respiratory endurance, which could potentially enhance athletic performance. It is important to note, however, that more extensive research is necessary to validate these findings.
Promoting Mental Well-being
Alternate nostril breathing has also been shown to have a positive effect on mental health by reducing stress and anxiety. A 2020 review of studies found that yogic breathing had a positive impact on female survivors of abuse, and another 2018 review documented improvements in neurocognitive, respiratory, and metabolic functions in healthy individuals practicing yogic breathing, including alternate nostril breathing.
Is Alternate Nostril Breathing Safe for Everyone?
While alternate nostril breathing is generally safe for most people, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting the practice for those with medical conditions such as asthma, COPD, or any other lung or heart concern. If adverse effects such as shortness of breath, dizziness, or feelings of agitation occur during the practice, it should be stopped immediately.
Conclusion: Breathing Your Way to Better Health
Alternate nostril breathing is a simple yet powerful practice that anyone can incorporate into their daily routine. With its potential to enhance lung function, reduce stress, and promote overall well-being, it serves as a testament to the profound connection between breath, body, and mind. As with any other form of exercise, consistency and gradual progression are key to reaping the full benefits of alternate nostril breathing.
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