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Alternate nostril breathing: why it’s good and how to do it.

If you haven’t heard of it before, alternate nostril breathing (or nadi shodhana pranayama in Sanskrit) might sound a bit mad. But this ancient yogic breathing technique has been proven to help relieve stress and anxiety, aid relaxation, clear the mind and improve general health and wellbeing. In fact, Hillary Clinton is a big advocate of the technique, revealing that she used it to combat the stress of losing the presidential election.

You may have already practised it in your yoga classes – it’s a favourite technique with many of our teachers - or maybe you’ve heard about it and are wondering what it’s all about. Allow us to enlighten you.

The thinking and science behind it

In yoga, nadi shodhana pranayama is thought to harmonise the two sides of the brain, making you more feel more balanced and able to think clearly. If you add a bit of science to this thinking, we know that the right side of the brain is our creative and emotional half, whereas the left is responsible for logic and language.

Breathing through the left nostril increases the activity in the right side of the brain, whereas breathing through the right stimulates the left. Alternate nostril breathing stimulates both sides of the brain, thus not letting one side of the brain dominate the other, enabling us to think more clearly and feel more calm.

What are the benefits of alternate nostril breathing?

Lowers stress and improves general wellbeing

One of the major benefits of alternate nostril breathing is that it lowers stress. This isn’t just anecdotal; a 2013 study found that volunteers who practiced a range of slow breathing exercises, including alternate nostril breathing for 12 weeks lowered their perceived stress levels. Reducing stress has a positive effect on our mental health and general wellbeing overall.

Increases cardiovascular function and lowers heart rate

Many studies have shown that alternate nostril breathing has a positive impact on the heart and blood pressure. A 2013 study revealed that participants who practiced the technique for 10 weeks had lower heart rates and blood pressure than the participants who didn’t.

Improves lung function

A 2011 study showed that volunteers who participated in a six week pranayama training programme showed significant improvement in their vital capacity, along with a decline in basal heart rate and blood pressure.

Improved memory function

If you need another reason, alternate nostril breathing may help to keep our brains healthy too. A 2011 study on engineering students showed that 80% of those who practiced the technique experienced better memory recall than they had before.

How to do it

You can practice alternate nostril breathing any time of the day that feels right for you, whether that’s first thing in the morning, just before you go to sleep, or before or after a yoga class. Be mindful of how you feel during the practice, and if you feel lightheaded, breathless or agitated, then stop.

· Sit with your legs crossed, or stand if you feel more comfortable that way

· Raise your right hand towards your right nostril, exhale completely and then cover your right nostril with your right thumb

· Next, inhale through your left nostril and then cover it with your forefinger or little finger

· Take your thumb away from your right nostril and exhale

· Inhale through your right nostril and cover again with your thumb

· Uncover your left nostril and exhale. This is one complete cycle.

· Continue for 20 breaths, or until you feel calm yet energised

How does alternate nostril breathing make you feel? Or have you been inspired to try it? Let us know!