When you start feeling anxious and panicky, lose your concentration, or experience a sweet craving, a few minutes of Nadi Shodhana can completely change this state.

Summary of the steps

If you know what to do but just need a quick reminder, here it is. All steps are described in detail below.

1. Sit comfortably with the head and spine upright.

2. Adopt the hand position comfortable for you.

3. Close your right nostril and inhale through the left nostril.

4. Close your left nostril, open your right nostril and exhale* through the right nostril.

5. Inhale through the right nostril.

6. Close your right nostril, open the left nostril. Exhale through the left nostril.

7. Repeat steps 3 to 6 for several minutes (up to ten) twice a day.

* Try to make your exhalation last a bit longer than inhalation. Don’t try to hold your breath between inhalation and exhalation. 

What is alternate nostril breathing?

Alternate nostril breathing (known in Sanskrit as Nadi Shodhana, Nadi Shuddhi, and anulom-vilom pranayama) is a simple yet powerful breathing exercise. Nadi Shodhana comes from Yoga, but you do not have to be a yogi to practise and benefit from it.  It can be practised by everyone every day for short periods of time (up to 10 minutes).

Nadi Shodhana involves breathing in and out through alternate nostrils in a relaxed way for a few minutes at a time. It can be done in any seated position, at home, at work, on the train, plane or anywhere.

In Ayurvedic terms, Nadi Shodhana is one of the most effective ways of balancing Vata Dosha and is important in Vata management. In common terms, this exercise balances the nervous, endocrine and digestive systems at the same time. It is a calming centering practice indispensable in the modern days.

What is it good for?

Regular practice of Nadi Shodhana has the following benefits:

reduces stress and anxiety
improves sleep
improves moodrelieves pain
enhances mental performance
helps create mental peace and calmness
improves alertness, concentration, memory, coordination and clarity of thoughtincreases absorption of oxygen and your energy levels
increases vitalityimproves efficiency of expelling carbon dioxide from the blood
activates the parasympathetic nervous system promoting relaxation and undoing the effects of stressquiets down the limbic system helping control your worries and other negative emotions

How should I do it?

This practice should be performed on an empty stomach (at least 1-1,5 hours after a meal).

Sit in a comfortable position with your head upright and your spine straight. You can sit on a chair or a sofa, or on the floor, you can use the wall or pillows for support; the most important is that you feel comfortable throughout the practice.

Before you begin, relax your shoulders and prepare yourself to spend a few minutes doing this breathing practice. When you start breathing through alternate nostrils, do not force your breath. Breathe naturally, in a way that is comfortable for you. Do not slow down or speed up your breathing. Once you get used to this practice, you can gradually deepen and lengthen your breathing, taking longer to complete each cycle. You can then start paying attention to the length of inhalation and exhalation and try to make exhalation last slightly longer than inhalation. Do not try to forcefully hold your breath between inhalation and exhalation.
You don’t have to close your eyes, but it can help you feel calmer more quickly.

Hold your right hand in front of your face with your palm facing towards you. Fold in your index and middle finger towards your palm:

Place your thumb above your right nostril, and your ring finger above the left nostril. You can support your right elbow with your left hand, just make sure this does not restrict the movement of the chest and abdomen. If for whatever reason you cannot use your right hand, you can use your left hand instead.

By gently placing your thumb on the upper part of the right nose wing, block the airflow through the right nostril and inhale through the left nostril (left panel of the picture below).

Gently place your ring finger on the upper part of the left nostril and close the left nostril, immediately followed by releasing the thumb and opening the right nostril. Exhale through the right nostril (right panel of the picture below).  Without changing the position of your hand inhale through the right nostril, then gently close the right nostril with your thumb and release the ring finger opening the left nostril. Exhale though the left nostril.

This completes one cycle of alternate nostril breathing or Nadi Shodhana.

Left panel: inhale through the left nostril by gently closing the right nostril with the thumb. Right panel: exhale through the right nostril by releasing the thumb and gently closing the left nostril with the ring finger.

The picture above aims to clearly show what exactly is going on with the fingers and the nose. In practice, your thumb and ring finger will not be going far away from the nostrils but will hover over them as shown in the picture below. Make sure that you apply very little force on your nose wings and do not hurt your nose!

Make sure you do not hold your breath between breathing in an out longer than it is necessary to changes the position of your thumb and ring finger. There should be no hyperventilation, no shortness of breath or any uncomfortable symptoms. Try to make inhalation and exhalation as quiet as possible; ideally a person sitting next to you should not hear it.

Repeat alternate nostril breathing for several minutes starting, for example, with two and gradually building up to a maximum of ten minutes. Alternatively, you can decide to start with ten cycles and then slowly build up.

The best is to do this exercise twice a day: in the morning after waking up and in the evening before going to bed. You will notice the effect very soon, but to get a long-lasting effect it will take at least eight weeks of regular practice.

What do I do if my nose is blocked?

If you have a cold, then wait until you feel well again and then start practising alternate nostril breathing.

If you have a  mild chronic congestion, try practising very gently. Mild congestion usually responds well to Nadi Shodhana if practised with sensitivity. Apply small amounts (2-3 drops per nostril) of pure cold pressed sesame oil or ghee (clarified butter) right before doing Nadi Shodhana. The oil helps remove mucus and soothes irritated mucus membranes.

If you are practising yogic nasal cleansing  (Jala Neti), make sure you always apply oil afterwards to keep Vata Dosha in balance.

If there is a stubborn nasal congestion, it may require a separate treatment and Nadi Shodhana in this form might not be possible. There is an option to do this process in your imagination, visualising the air entering though your left nostril and exiting from the right nostril etc, but this is a topic for a separate post that I will write later.

Based on my own experience and explanations by Vaidya Atreya Smith, Dr Sharad Bhalekar of Kaivalyadhama Ashram and Yoga Research Institute and other teachers.