woman doing pranayama or alternative nostril breathing

Hannah Bimpson‘s yogic relaxation classes are a monthly highlight at The Hub: an opportunity for us all to take time out and share 75 minutes of complete and utter forget-the-outside-world relaxation. One of the elements in that class that people most appreciate is Hannah’s help with breath work (pranayama), when she shares her knowledge of yogic breathing techniques. These are not just for use on your yoga mat, you are very much encouraged to take them into your day-to-day life to help with those moments of overwhelm, frustration, anger… any time when you’re het up one way or another. Here Hannah talks about Nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. It’s really easy to do on your own, soothing the nervous system – so ideal for anyone struggling with stress or sleep issues.

Pranayama is an element of yoga that isn’t so widely recognised or talked about, as we often put so much emphasis on asanas (yoga poses). However, these are very powerful breathing practices that come with huge benefits. Although pranayama is generally defined as ‘breath control’, it is so much more than that. The word pranayama consists of two parts: ‘prana’ meaning ‘vital energy’ or ‘life force’ and ‘ayama’ which is defined as ‘extension’ or ‘expansion’. So the word pranayama means ‘extension or expansion of the dimension of prana’, a technique through which the quantity of prana in the body is activated to a higher frequency.

There are many different pranayama techniques but one that I like to use frequently is nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. ‘Nadi’ is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘channel’ or ‘flow’ and ‘shodhana’ means ‘purification’. Therefore, nadi shodhana is primarily aimed at clearing and purifying the subtle channels of the mind and body, while balancing its masculine and feminine aspects. It is an easy and suitable practice for almost anyone.

Nadi shodhana involves:

  1. closing the right nostril with the thumb and taking an inhale from the left nostril
  2. then closing the left nostril with the ring finger and taking an exhale, then an inhale from the right nostril
  3. repeating the process switching sides over and over for a period of time, ending with an exhale through the left nostril. Some pranayama practices can create heat in the body, but concluding the practice by exhaling through the left nostril neutralises any excess heat that may have accumulated.

I use this technique a lot during relaxation classes, as well as offering it to those who might be struggling with stress or sleep issues, because I find that one of its biggest benefits is that it soothes the nervous system. By bringing your awareness to the breath and encouraging yourself to take slower and deeper breaths this sends a message to the brain and nervous system to move from a stressed to a relaxed state. When we breathe through the left nostril alone (blocking off the right) this can direct oxygen flow and energy into the right hemisphere of the brain, which turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, enabling relaxation.

There are many more benefits you can get from this practice, such as:

  • Supports clear and balanced respiratory channels
  • Brings balance to the left and right hemispheres of the brain
  • Lowers heart rate and reduces stress and anxiety
  • Enhances the ability to concentrate
  • Can help to establish a calming rhythm for the brain and heart, assisting those with cardiovascular and nervous disorders specifically, and stress-related conditions generally
  • Calms and rejuvenates the nervous system
  • Balances solar and lunar, masculine and feminine energies

I would recommend to everyone to put pranayama into their daily routine and nadi shodhana can be the perfect place to start. If you are new to the practice it is always recommended to seek guidance from an experienced teacher before taking it into your home practice.