Beginner’s Guide to Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana, is a fantastic tool to bring balance and evenness to mind and body. In a nutshell, we use fingertips to apply gentle, steady pressure on our nostrils, blocking one at a time to alternate which one we breathe into or out.
This pulsation of switching from side to side brings harmony by crossing the midline of the body and brain. It requires meticulous attention to detail and delicate adjustments to the hand to keep the flow of breath and the mind even.
The Shape of Your Hand
In nadi shodhana the thumb of the right hand joins with the ring and pinky fingers to form a pincher.
The tip, not the pad, of the thumb is placed on the dimple of the right nostril. The ring finger, with pinky pressing into it (to match the strength of the thumb), presses on the left nostril.
Many people practice with their first two fingers extended and placed on the third eye. While not wrong, this changes the angle of the wrist, and puts more strain on it.
The best way to get consistent strength in the hand and even flow in your breath is to curl the index and middle fingers into the center of the palm,
This is hard!
My tip (pictured below): hold a cork in your first two fingers until you can master this shape.
Bow Your Head
Listening to your breath encourages a calm mind that, along with bowing your head gives you the chance to “ look within.” When you tuck chin to chest it helps your arm be less fatigued. It also creates the ability to seal in the vital energy, or prana we draw in on the breath.
In the picture below, I’ve begun to bow my head. Normally this would be done with the torso upright, but I’ve hunched forward slightly so you can see my hand position as it is placed on my nose.
Here are a few key points
- Sit up straight and lift your chest dramatically, even as you bow your head.
- Make sure your head is centered, it tends to drift towards the hand holding the nose.
- Relax eyes and tongue so you don’t strain or force your breath.
The Flow of Breath
Once you’ve got your setup down, with your hand placed on your nose, apply gentle pressure to both nostrils at the same time. You’ll be constricting them both very slightly, narrowing the passage of air. Breathe through both nostrils like this for a few breaths —if anything with your hand position or your general well-being feels off, just stop or readjust. If all feels well, then proceed like this:
- exhale completely through both nostrils
- block the left nostril with your ring/pinky fingers
- inhale through the right nostril
- now, block the right nostril and exhale out the left
- inhale back through the left, then block it at the top of the inhalation
- then exhale out the right
This completes one full cycle of breathing. I suggest setting a timer for two minutes, then when the timer goes off, finish a cycle (ending with an exhale out the right nostril) before releasing your hand and breathing normally for several breaths.
After your practice, lie down in savanna for a few minutes to allow the effects to assimilate into your system.
These little refinements go a long way towards creating a calm and even mind. Fidgeting means your mind is wandering. Try to keep your fingers still and make only subtle adjustments to weight and pressure.
- Keep your fingertips in contact with your nose at all times.
- Instead of lifting and replacing your fingertips every time you change nostrils, increase or decrease pressure as needed.
- Allow the natural flare of your nostrils on inhale by rolling through the tips of your fingers, rather than lifting them.