Stressed Out? Try This Ancient Breathing Exercise

Whether you commute to your job, work in your pajamas or are bombarded by seemingly endless domestic responsibilities EVERYONE is affected by stress on some level. Why else would MindBodyGreen be saturated with articles about the dangers of stress and ways to help you deal?

But no matter how well you prepare yourself to avoid stress, it will eventually find you. What to do? While a primal scream may seem tempting, there are better options.

Try grabbing hold of your nose for a minute of alternate side nostril breathing instead! A useful technique to practice daily, alternate breathing is an excellent tool when you need a quick mental and physical break.

A yogic breathing technique known in Sanskrit as Nadi Shodhan Pranayama, has been practiced for centuries. Here's how the translation breaks it down:

Nadi A channel or energy pathway through which the breath flows.

Shodhan Defined as cleansing and/or purifying.

Pranayama An extension of the life force, (prana) in particular, the breath.

In yoga, pranayama is more commonly known amongst practitioners as the "guidance of breath" and is used to relieve stress. Pranayama practiced with alternate nostril breathing can help calm the mind, soothe anxiety, balance the left and right brain hemispheres, and promote clear thinking. You're also likely to sleep better and generally feel more relaxed, overall.

Like many yoga practices, this simple yet challenging exercise brings you into the present, so that regrets and worries give way to the here and now. Being more present can only help you find more focus on the task at hand.

How to practice Nadi Shodhan Pranayama:

1. Find a convenient location in your home or outdoors where you won't be interrupted. Sit tall and comfortably, but careful to maintain relaxed shoulders and facial muscles. This is one of the challenges of any yoga position to be focused, yet relaxed.

2. Softly place your left hand on your left thigh with palm up toward the ceiling. It is your choice if you want to make a mudra, by lightly touching your thumb and index finger at the tips in a very loose OK sign (this is known as chin mudra).

3. Close your eyes.

4. With your right hand, place the tips your index finger and middle finger gently between your eyebrows. Then place your ring finger and little finger on your left nostril and your thumb on your right nostril.

5. To begin the breathing exercise, lightly press your thumb down to close the right nostril and exhale a long, slow, and unforced breath through your left nostril.

6. Now breathe in from the same side (your left nostril).

7. Then press your left nostril gently with the ring finger and little finger while releasing your thumb from the right nostril. Exhale through your right nostril.

8. Then breathe in from your right nostril.

9. Continue exhaling then inhaling from alternate sides using your fingers to close each nostril.

Complete the exercise 9 times. Remember to exhale and then inhale through the same nostril, before switching sides.

You may feel a strange sensation as your physical and mental tightness from stress begins to melt away. The more you use pranayama, the better you become at staying in the moment and reaping its benefits. While eating healthy and getting a variety of exercise can help you cope more successfully with everyday stress, this simple breathing exercise can give you an extra boost that can sustain you in the long run.

Alternate side nostril breathing will help you harness the power of your breath and bring the channels of your life force, or prana, into perfect harmony.

Here's a video to help guide you through the technique from Ravi Shankar's Art of Living program:

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