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Alternate Nostril Breathing – Just Breathe!

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 11.43.52 AMAre you having trouble winding down?

Do you have ‘monkey mind’ making an unbroken sleep near impossible?

A technique known as alternate nostril breathing (pranayama) is a yogic breathing relaxation technique that can be used by almost anyone irrespective of age, gender or even time availability.

Alternate Nostril Breathing is believed to:

  • Restore imbalances in your brain
  • Improve sleep
  • Calm your emotional state
  • Boost your thinking
  • Calm your nervous system


Why Do Alternate Nostril Breathing?

When we are stressed or anxious (due a multitude of reasons in this crazy fast paced world) we tend to breathe very high up in the chest, holding the shoulders up tensely and breathing very shallow.

But because breathing is done automatically we usually don’t even notice our own breathing technique. It is fact however that the more tense  we are, the more shallow our breathing becomes.

Autonomic nostril breathing allows, even for a small period of time per day, to be mindful of our breathing and subsequently enhance the health benefits from this automatic body function.


Why Alternate Nostril Breathing Works

It is known that we don’t breathe equally with both nostrils. At any particular time one nostril is easier to breathe through than the other nostril.  This  appears to alternate every three hours (with those who don’t have optimum health levels) or two hours (with those who do have optimum health).

Studies have determined that our breathing corresponds with brain function.  The electrical activity of the brain was found to be greater on the side opposite the less congested nostril.

The right side of the brain controls our creative side while the left side of our brain controls the logical side.

The research showed that when the left nostril was less obstructed, the right side of the brain and its activity was predominant and test subjects were found to do better on creative tests.

Similarly when the right nostril was less obstructed the left side of the brain was predominant and test subjects did better on verbal skill tests.


12 Benefits of Alternate Nostril Breathing

1. Revitalisation 

Alternate nostril breathing provides the body with a dose of extra energy, especially when feeling fatigued.


2. Enhances rest and relaxation

A restless mind cannot relax.  Alternate nostril breathing melts away an imbalances between the right and left hemisphere of your brain and calms your thinking.

This is perfect for helping you to become more rested and relaxed far more efficiently.

3. Improves sleep

If you can’t sleep at night, use the following technique.  Lay on your right hand side, gently close your right nostril with your right thumb and breath through your left nostril.

This will activate your parasympathetic nervous system which will calm you down and slow your heart rate.  Left nostril breathing is cooling, calming and nourishing for your whole being.


4. Calms an agitated mind

A few rounds of focused alternate nostril breathing is helpful in calming  any “over thinking” and “over-doing” thoughts.


5. Improves brain function

When you are experiencing mental dullness – concentration and clarity is poor.

Alternate nostril breathing brings equal amounts of oxygen to both sides of the brain allowing for improved brain function.

Five minutes of alternate nostril breathing before an exam or interview is a great way to access your whole brain for improved performance.


6. Merges the left “thinking” brain and right “feeling brain

Alternate nostril breathing optimises both sides of your brain by improving oxygenation so you can access your whole brain and improve its function.

Alternating nostril breathing in through your left nostril will access the right “feeling” hemisphere of your brain, allowing a sense of calm.

While breathing in through your right nostril, will access the left “thinking” hemisphere of your brain which creates energy.

Consciously alternating your breath between either nostril will allow you to activate and access your whole brain and create a left/ right balance.


7. Soothes your nervous system therefore reducing stress

By focusing on your breath and deepening it, your brain will trigger the parasympathetic nervous system by switching your nervous system from a stressed response, into a relaxation response.

Single left nostril breathing (by closing your right nostril) will direct the flow of oxygen and energy to the right hemisphere of your brain – similar to the effect of improving sleep.


8. Encourage a calmer, more balanced emotional state

In times of emotional distress and upset, a few rounds of mindful alternate nostril breathing will reduce the intensity of over reactive emotional states.

This will lead to more stable thinking and calm your emotions.


9. Cleanses your lungs

A five minute alternate nostril breathing session morning and night is great way to remove stale air and wastes from deep within your lungs.

It is truly an amazing thought that 70% of our body’s waste products are eliminated via our lungs!

Additionally it enhances respiratory function by increasing respiratory strength and endurance.


10. Great preparation for meditation

Alternate nostril breathing can be practiced for a few minutes before you begin any meditation practice by calming your thought processes.


11. Clears and boosts your energy channels

Alternate nostril breathing improves and directs the flow of energy throughout your body – preventing sluggishness.

It oxygenates your blood and allows the energy (prana) in your body to be strong and flowing.


12. Regulates  the cooling and warming cycles of the body

It is believed that left nostril breathing (by closing your right nostril) is feminine, nurturing, calm, receiving and cooling.

Right nostril breathing (by closing the left nostril) is masculine, heated, competitive, doing, active and forceful.

Favouring one nostril more than the other can effect the heat or coolness of your body. Take the time to be mindfully aware of what nostril you are favouring.

How to Do Alternate Breathing

Step 1. Sit in any comfortable seated position. Relax the body and breath naturally for a few moments, allowing your mind and body to settle.

Step 2. Use right thumb to close off right nostril.

Step 3. Inhale slowly through left nostril

Step 4. Pause for a second

Step 5. Now close left nostril with ring finger and release thumb off right nostril

Step 6. Exhale through your right nostril

Step 7. Now, inhale through right nostril

Step 8. Pause

Step 9. Use thumb to close of right nostril

Step 10. Breathe out through left nostril

Step 11. This completes one round. Start slowly with 1 or 2 rounds and gradually increase. Sit quietly for a few moments after you have finished and be mindful of what you have accomplished.




This is one of many alternate nostril breathing techniques but a single breathe round is a good place to start. Other techniques of pranayama include inhaling for 4, holding for 4 and exhaling for 4.


A Word of Caution

Alternate nostril breathing should not be practiced if you have a cold or if your nasal passages are blocked in any way.

Forced breathing through the nose may lead to complications and should never be done. If you use the nostrils for breath control they must be unobstructed. If they are not, practice throat breathing until the nostrils clear.


Final Word

Alternate Nostril Breathing has some wonderful health benefits. It is quick, doesn’t cost a thing and is easily learnt by individuals at all stages of life.

If you are stressed, experience insomnia, have problems concentrating or even just want to enhance your detoxification processes than Alternate Nostril Breathing or pranayama is a wonderful inclusion into your daily routine.


Further Reading


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