The ancient yogis believe that if we regulate our breath, then we can control our minds. Since we breathe unconsciously for most of the day, what does this say about our minds? When we bring awareness and technique to the breath, we can generate a variety of positive results both physically and mentally.
One of my favorite breathing techniques is Nadi Shodhana (nah-dee show-DAH-nah), which is the alternate nostril breath for mental and energetic purification.
Whether you know it or not, one of your nostrils actually dominates when you breathe unconsciously. Generally, your right nostril represents the energy of the sun, correlating with heat and fiery energy. The left nostril represents the energy of the moon, reflecting soft, cool and relaxed energy.
The benefits of alternate nostril breathing:
By practicing alternate nostril breathing, you begin to consciously balance the solar and lunar energies in the body in order to synchronize the two hemispheres of the brain. This technique oxygenates your blood and allows the energy (prana) in your body to be strong and flowing.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama can also help lower your heart rate and reduce stress and anxiety by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system. This will automatically switch your nervous system from a stressed state into relaxation mode.
Although Nadi Shodhana traditionally includes breath retention, fixed ratio breathing, and the repetition of certain "seed" mantras, beginners will still get the benefits from just a few minutes, or even just a few cycles, of this breathing exercise.
Here are the 5 steps to Nadi Shodhana:
1. Sit comfortably and make Mrigi Mudra with your right hand by bending the index and middle finger in toward the palm. This will leave your thumb lifted as well as the ring and pinkie finger.
2. Turn the hand toward your face and use your thumb to gently close the left nostril by pressing under the bridge of your nose. Inhale slowly through your left nostril.
3. Close the left nostril with your ring and pinkie finger and open the right nostril to exhale slowly.
4. Keep the right nostril open as you inhale.
5. Close the right nostril with your thumb and open the left nostril to exhale.
This is one full cycle. Repeat three to five times, then release the hand mudra and return to normal breathing. Observe any changes in energy and continue to practice.