Nadi Shodhana

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, we systematically present Nadi Shodhana.

Objective

Become familiar with teaching considerations and instructions for Nadi Shodhana, also known as Anuloma Viloma and Alternate Nostril Breathing.

Description

Define Nadi Shodhana. Describe the primary effect and other reported effects. Explain the impact of hemispheric brain dominance and why inter-hemispheric transference is important. Give contraindications and instructions for hand placement. Give instructions for practice. Describe a simpler variation to consider with beginners or for when there is little time.

Purpose / Effects

Nadi Shodhana is an excellent and safe pranayama choice for many levels of students. This practice opens both nostrils which leads to stimulating both sides of the brain, thus balancing the activity of the brain’s hemispheres.

  • Balances brain’s hemispheres.
  • Invites a still, clear mind; brings mental clarity.
  • Relaxes.
  • Steadies energy.
  • Other descriptions include “mental peace and composure” and “helps calm you down.” (Jennifer Nelson)

Helps Restore Equilibrium

The most powerful method of balancing ida and pingala is Nadi Shodhana, alternate-nostril breathing… This practice is effective because the ida nadi is directly connected to the left nostril, and the pingala nadi to the right. A few rounds of this basic pranayama technique at the end of an asana practice are an excellent way to help restore equilibrium between the two nadis and to compensate for any imbalance you may have inadvertently caused during your practice. – James Bailey, Yoga Journal, Discover the Ida and Pingala Nadis 

Mental Peace & Composure

Anulom Vilom Pranayama is an unfailing panacea for mental peace and composure. We are normally not aware of our inhalation and exhalation… The nose is the principal opening by which we perform respiration. If one keeps oneself slightly aware of this process, then a very good achievement can be had in avoiding cerebral disorder. – Dr. Rita Khanna, Yoga Practices for Epilepsy 

Therapeutic Application

  • Many sources recommend Nadi Shodhana for students who experience epilepsy.

Sanskrit

Nadi

  • “Nādī” = a line that carries energy (source)
  • Nadis are thought to carry prana in the same way wires and nerves conduct electricity. (source)
  • Nadis are said to be subtle pathways that channel prana to every cell of the body, keeping us alive.
  • Tradition says there are 72,000 to 300,000 nadis within and surrounding the physical body.
  • For more information, see Energy & Subtle Body Anatomy.

Shodhana

  • “Śodhana” = purification, cleansing

Nadi Shodhana

  • Refers to cleansing the energy lines (nadis) and nerves. (source)

Context: Brain Hemispheres

  • Typically, we shift (approximately every 90 minutes throughout the day) between left and right brain dominance. This correlates with one nostril breathing freely while the other is partially constricted.
  • Our energy, state of mind and mood are impacted by which half of the brain is dominant.
  • In addition, hemispheric dominance is associated with particular types of activity such as logical thinking (left brain) or innovation (right brain).
  • Transfer of information between the left and right hemispheres is accomplished via increased activity across the corpus callosum, resulting in a shift from hemispheric dominance to synchronization and harmony in the brain.
  • The corpus callosum can be strengthened to become more capable of transmitting information between hemispheres. Albert Einstein and the famed psychic healer Edgar Cayce were said to have unusually large corpous callosum.

Contraindications & Cautions

  • Contraindications: none noted
  • This is one of the safest pranayama practices to offer all levels of students 

Hand Placement

Traditionally, the thumb and ring finger are used to block nostrils. For this practice:

  1. Place the peace fingers (index and middle finger) of right hand lightly onto forehead.
  2. Or, an alternate option is to take Vishnu Mudra with the right hand by bringing the peace fingers to the center of the palm.
  3. Let ring finger gently rest over left nostril and thumb over the right.
  4. The index and middle fingers rest between the eyebrows.
  5. The pinky finger hooks over ring finger.
  6. Option: rest elbow on the side of the ribs to prevent fatigue and arm or shoulder pain.
  7. Some do not teach this traditional hand placement and simply instruct students to block their nostrils.

Instructions

  1. Take a complete cycle of breath through both nostrils and empty the breath on the exhale.
  2. Gently block right nostril. Inhale through left.
  3. Gently block left. Exhale right. Inhale right.
  4. Gently block right. Exhale left. Inhale left.
  5. Continue, alternating nostrils with each exhalation.
  6. Breathe smoothly and steadily. Remain relaxed and calm.

Practice up to 5 minutes.

This version has no breath retention.

Variations

For Beginners or Little Time

There are many variations. Here is one that Rod Stryker teaches on the Meditations for Life  CD. The added simplicity of this variation can be helpful with beginners or when there is little time.

  1. Inhale through both nostrils.
  2. At the top of the inhale, block one side. Exhale through the other.
  3. Inhale through both.
  4. Exhale through opposite side.
  5. Inhale through both.
  6. Continue.

Adding Affirmations

Affirmations can be an added component to breath practices. The following is from Nischala Joy Devi: “As you inhale, think: The strength I feel inside me is enough to sustain me during any experience I have today. As you exhale: The compassion from my heart will lead me to help anyone in need. With such thoughts, what we’re doing is strengthening and bringing prana into our system, which helps us become strong and compassionate with others.” — Jennifer Nelson