Alternate nostril breathing is a yogic breath control practice. In Sanskrit, it’s known as nadi shodhana pranayama. This translates as “subtle energy clearing breathing technique.”

This type of breath work can be done as part of a yoga or meditation practice. Alternate nostril breathing can also be done as its own practice to help you quiet and still your mind.

Read on to learn about the benefits and risks as well as how to do alternate nostril breathing.

Alternate nostril breathing may help to:

  • relax your body and mind
  • reduce anxiety
  • promote overall well-being

These benefits, in turn, may help you to be more focused and aware.

You can use this breathing technique to help manage stresses in your daily life. You may also find that practicing alternate nostril breathing helps you to be more mindful of the present moment.

1. Lowers stress and improves cardiovascular function

One of the main benefits of alternate nostril breathing is that it may lower stress. A 2013 study found that people who practiced alternate nostril breathing lowered their perceived stress levels.

These results were also shown in the group that practiced fast breathing techniques such as breath of fire.

In the same study, alternate nostril breathing was the only type of breath work that was found to have a positive effect on cardiovascular function. It was shown to significantly lower factors such as heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure.

After 12 weeks of practice, the participants had improvement in heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. The participants were taught the practice for 30 minutes three times per week by a certified yoga instructor.

2. Improves lung function and respiratory endurance

Yogic breathing practices may improve lung function and respiratory endurance. A small 2017 study examined the effects of pranayama practice on the lung functions of competitive swimmers and found that it had a positive effect on respiratory endurance.

Improved respiratory endurance may also improve athletic performance.

The swimmers in the study did alternate nostril breathing in addition to two other breathing practices for 30 minutes, five days a week for one month. Larger, more in-depth studies are needed to expand upon these findings.

3. Lowers heart rate

Lowering your heart rate can help to promote cardiovascular health. According to a 2006 study, engaging in a slow yogic breath such as alternative nostril breathing may significantly decrease heart rate and average breathing rhythm.

Alternate nostril breathing may be a useful method to help you lower your heart rate in the moment, too.

Further research is needed to better understand the long-term effects on heart rates and breathing patterns.

4. Promotes well-being

Alternate nostril breathing may enhance overall health and well-being. It has also been shown to have a positive effect on mental health by reducing stress and anxiety.

Research from 2011 found that a six-week alternative nostril breathing program had a positive impact on physical and physiological fitness-based performance. The breathing technique was found to have a positive influence on blood pressure, heart rate, and vital capacity.

Furthermore, a 2018 review found that different types of yogic breathing have many positive benefits for your health, including improvements to neurocognitive, respiratory, and metabolic functions in healthy people.

Alternate nostril breathing was also found to increase breath awareness and have a beneficial effect on the nervous system.

Practicing alternate nostril breath is safe for most people. Talk to your doctor before starting the practice if you have a medical condition such as asthma, COPD, or any other lung or heart concern.

If you feel any adverse effects, such as shortness of breath, while doing the breathing technique, you should stop the practice immediately. This includes feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or nauseous.

If you find that the breathing is bringing up feelings of agitation or that it triggers any mental or physical symptoms, you should stop the practice.

You can practice alternate nostril breathing on your own, but you may want to ask a yoga teacher to show you the practice in person so you can make sure you’re doing it correctly.

Focus on keeping your breath slow, smooth, and continuous. Focusing on your breath will help you to remember where you are in the cycle. You should be able to breathe easily throughout the practice.

To practice alternate nostril breathing:

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your legs crossed.
  • Place your left hand on your left knee.
  • Lift your right hand up toward your nose.
  • Exhale completely and then use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
  • Inhale through your left nostril and then close the left nostril with your fingers.
  • Open the right nostril and exhale through this side.
  • Inhale through the right nostril and then close this nostril.
  • Open the left nostril and exhale through the left side.
  • This is one cycle.
  • Continue for up to 5 minutes.
  • Always complete the practice by finishing with an exhale on the left side.

You can do alternate nostril breathing at any time and place that feels most comfortable to you. You may find that you enjoy doing it in the morning or evening. It can also be done during the day when you need to focus or relax.

Alternate nostril breathing is best done on an empty stomach. Don’t practice alternate nostril breathing if you’re sick or congested.

Alternate nostril breathing can be done before or after your yoga practice. Find the way that suits you best as people have different results and experiences. Or you can do it at the start of your meditation practice. This may help you to deepen your meditation.

Alternate nostril breathing may help you relax or clear your mind. Bringing more awareness to your breathing can help you to increase your awareness in other parts of your life as well.

While the potential benefits are promising, remember that you need to practice alternative nostril breathing regularly in order to see and maintain results.

Breathing techniques aren’t a substitute for medical treatment. Always talk to your doctor before beginning any breathing practice, especially if you have any medical concerns or conditions.