Deep Dive: What is Alternate Nostril Breathing?

The Exhale
January 24, 2022
5 min read

If there’s one thing you’ll learn with us at Breathwrk, it’s that there’s often a breathing technique for everyone and everything. Like a toolbox brimming with hardware, our bodies have a range of different solutions to the problems life presents us, and it only takes a little bit of knowledge to know what to use.

While we like to talk a lot about the ins and outs of how specific techniques can aid our mental and physical wellbeings, rarely do we go into the nitty-gritty of how particular techniques work. We’ve spoken before of alternate nostril breathing and have even detailed the methodology, but the nuances and history of the method are still something of a mystery if you haven’t explored further.

So, with that being said, today’s blog will focus on the usage and history of alternate nostril breathing and how you can use this technique to improve your health and wellbeing.

Read on!

Simply Explained

In as simple a summary as possible, alternate nostril breathing is a deep breathing technique where the practitioner harnesses controlled pauses through specific nostrils to eliminate stress and calm the body.

Alternate nostril breathing is hugely effective at soothing the sympathetic nervous system as the controlled release of breath forces the body to disengage from its fight or flight response, lowering the levels of cortisol being produced as a result.

Alternate nostril breathing has been taught as a yogic practice for hundreds, if not thousands of years and has been found to be effective at improving overall oxygen intake while reducing the effects of chronic stress on the body.

Nasal Origins

Alternate nostril breathing, or Nadi Shodhana, originates from the yogic traditions of Yoga Sutras in ancient India and is described as a method for aligning the mind with the body and vice-versa.

At the time, the nostrils were believed to control certain emotions, with the left and right nostrils affecting the inward and outward responses, respectively. Using the alternate nostril breathing technique; the idea was to balance the influx of emotions and regulate one’s breathing, much like the rhythmic swinging of a pendulum.

How it Works

A summary of the technique is as follows:  

  1. Sit comfortably before relaxing and closing your eyes, and remember to unclench your jaw. Take a few deep breaths first and settle into your space before continuing. Take note of your inhale, ensuring you inhale fully and allow your body to pause naturally.

  1. Place your left hand on your left knee, and lift your right hand toward your nose. Use your right thumb to close your right nostril gently.

  1. Now exhale fully through the left nostril, allowing your body to empty the full content of your lungs.

  1. Inhale through the left nostril, taking note to fully inhale and permit the ribs to move outward as you breathe inwards. Take a moment to pause as you close your left nostril at the height of the inhale, opening your right nostril simultaneously.

  1. Exhale fully through the right nostril before taking a moment to pause naturally.

  1. Now, inhale with your right nostril before repeating steps 2-5 for approximately 5 minutes.

As you become more comfortable with this technique, bump up the time incrementally to what feels comfortable, with an ideal goal of between 10-15 minutes. This technique is most effective when your inhales and exhales last for the same duration of time, so be sure to make that a focus of your breathing practice.

For more information regarding how to manage your breathing for a more effective lifestyle, visit our other blogs here at The Exhale to get the latest tips and tricks. For free guided breathing exercises that you can take anywhere, try out the Breathwrk app here.

And remember: Breathe Better, Live Better.


The Exhale