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 breathwork 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.
There are many variations of pranayama (breathing regulation). Anulom vilom and nadi shodhana are the most common types of alternate nostril breathing.
Read on to learn about the benefits and risks as well as how to do alternate nostril breathing.
Yoga practitioners incorporate a combination of poses and breathing exercises into their practice. There are two variations of alternate nostril breathing:
- Anulom vilom: This type of pranayama involves conscious inhalation through one nostril and exhalation through the other.
- Nadi shodhana: Similar to anulom vilom, this technique involves breathing from one nostril to the next. On the inhale, you hold the breath for a brief period of time.
When considering the benefits of alternate nostril breathing, a 2017 review of clinical studies suggests that the lack of a standard technique makes it difficult to identify how valuable each method compared to others.
Try to incorporate both variations into your practice and see how each one makes you feel.
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 stressors in your daily life. You may also find that practicing alternate nostril breathing helps you to be more mindful of the present moment.
In the news
Hilary Clinton wrote in her book “What Happened” that she used alternate nostril breathing after her loss of the 2016 United States presidential election to manage stress and anxiety.
1. Could lower stress and improve cardiovascular function
One of the main benefits of alternate nostril breathing is that it may lower stress. A
Compared to the control group, who did not complete daily breathing exercises, the participants in the study group had significantly lower stress scores.
Another 2020 study assessed the cardiovascular benefits of alternate nostril breathing in 100 healthy medical students. After 4 weeks of practice, the participants showed improvement in pulse and blood pressure biomarkers at the completion of the study.
Together, these studies suggest that alternate nostril breathing could potentially help reduce risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD), such as stress. More research is needed to confirm the benefits for people diagnosed with CVD.
2. Could improve 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, 5 days a week for 1 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
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 a
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 with 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 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 legs crossed.
- Place left hand on left knee.
- Lift right hand up toward nose.
- Exhale completely and then use right thumb to close right nostril.
- Inhale through left nostril and then close left nostril with your fingers.
- Open right nostril and exhale through this side.
- Inhale through right nostril and then close this nostril.
- Open left nostril and exhale through 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.
If you’re following the nadi shodhana variation, hold each inhale for 2 to 3 seconds before exhaling through the opposite nostril. Gradually increase the length of this pause in 2- to 3-second increments as you become more accustomed to the practice.
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 alternate nostril breathing regularly in order to see and maintain results.
Breathing techniques aren’t a substitute for medical treatment. Always talk with your doctor before beginning any breathing practice, especially if you have any medical concerns or conditions.